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

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For Socrates, the examined life, the life of the philosopher, is the best kind of life there is. It is only by examining life, by subjecting it to rational investigation, that one can hope to attain some measure of wisdom.

Socrates regards the question of how we should live to be the most important, and this question forms the basis of the various dialogues in which he participates, as presented to us by Plato and Xenophon. Socrates believed that it was only possible to live the good life if one actually knew what it was. By the same token, no one would knowingly act badly; if someone did act badly it was due to ignorance, to a lack of knowledge of what was good. The examined life, then, is essential for giving us an understanding of what is good and what is bad.

The negative side of the examined life can be seen in the fate meted out to Socrates by the citizens of Athens. Tried and convicted on various charges such as corrupting the city's youth and encouraging the worship of false gods, Socrates was eventually forced to drink poison as punishment for his crimes. Yet even after his conviction Socrates expressed no regret whatsoever for having lived the examined life. On the contrary, he continued to philosophize right up until the hour of this death.

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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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