The unexamined life …

Article in Stretton Focus, January 2014

. . . . . is not worth living”. So said Socrates one of the founders of western philosophy (469-399BCE). He lived up to his own teaching, and was ready to pay the price for delivering it. He was a gentle and humble man, but lived in turbulent times.
He was critical of the democratic rule of the city of Athens where he lived. He said that a ‘numbers majority’ does not guarantee the wisdom needed to create a just and virtuous society. The wisdom needed would be found only by ‘lovers of wisdom’, who by definition are the philosophers.
Socrates’ philosophy was based on questioning people about their hidden assumptions and their claims to certainty. He made people think a bit more deeply about what they said they believed, and the practices they followed.
He made no claims about having arrived himself at any ultimate destination. It was the necessity for free thought, and the pursuit of wisdom that was all-important. Of himself he said “I only know that I know nothing” – and so he was open to discovering truth from wherever it came; and following wherever it led. And on that basis he was judged to be the wisest man in Greece.
For Socrates, the big question was not knowing about the world we live in: but rather about knowing ourselves. In this respect his teaching was like that of Jesus of Nazareth, who came 400 years later. Both had serious questions to raise about the popular religion of the times: neither of them wrote anything down, and yet their influence has been widespread: and they were both put to death for the radical nature of their teaching.
Socrates urged people to examine their lives, and get to know themselves more honestly: Jesus told people to look for the presence of the kingdom of God that is within.

Donald Horsfield

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