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Teaching Philosophy

Volume 27, Issue 4, December 2004

Richard Schmitt
Pages 307-319

Is the Unexamined Life Not Worth Living?

This paper examines the merits of the Socratic maxim that the unexamined life is not worth living. First, the maxim is considered in its purely subjective sense, viz., that a particular individual’s life is not worth living due to factors like intense pain or illness. Second, two objective interpretations of the maxim are considered: a “strongly objective sense” where failure to examine one’s life means that one is wasting it and a “moderately objective sense” where it is reasonable to recommend that examining one’s life goals comes will come with a greater understanding of appreciation of said goals (with the caveat that other reasonable people may reject these goals as being worthwhile). After delineating the different senses in which the maxim can be understood, the author distinguishes two different varieties of self-examination and considers in what sense the Socratic maxim rings true and in what sense it exaggerates.

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