What are the positives and negatives of the examined and unexamined life, according to Socrates?

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Ashley Kannan | Middle School Teacher | (Level 3) Distinguished Educator

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Given how Plato'sApologyis more defense and justification than actual apology, it makes sense that Socrates' understanding of the unexamined life is going to contain more in light of positive attributes than negative ones.  For Socrates, the ultimate positive of the examined life is that it provides sophia, or wisdom, to the individual.  Plato frames Socrates as one who would not apologize for anything.  His argument is that he actually serves the Athenian public interest by examining notions and presuppositions and making these debates and discussions public. It is here where one overwhelming attribute of the examined life is evident in that the illumination of truth and understanding is its own virtuous good.  Additionally, full disclosure through examination of ideals and understanding in a public manner benefits everyone, ensuring that all individuals understand the true nature of being.

Socrates does not point to many negatives of the examined life, but the very premise of Plato's work in detailing the trial and eventual death penalty of Socrates reveals one potential downside to full immersion in the pursuit of the examined life.  It is a lonely endeavor.  Socrates suffers on his own for his pursuit of the examined life, a form of being that challenges authority structures and brings about a demand for all individuals to live to a higher standard.  This becomes quite lonely because there are some who either choose not to engage in this pursuit or benefit greatly by suppressing this in others.  Plato makes it quite clear that Socrates' greatest crime was exposing fraudulence of those in the position of power.  It is here where Socrates suffers greatly for his pursuit of the examined life.  It is not something he would consider a negative for he never really apologizes, contrary to the title.  Rather, he staunchly defends his position and his practices, and seeing him suffer for it could represent a potential downside to the zealous and unmitigated pursuit of the examined life.

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