Do you tend to think critically about who you are and what is your purpose? How would your life be if you never questioned anything, never wondered about things or asked “why?” Sometimes we don’t even recognize that each and every day we are living the examined life. This lifestyle enables us to make informed decisions about our lives, which most of us do each and every day. In doing this we are ultimately determining what actions we can take each day to become successful. Socrates tells us that “The unexamined life is not worth living” (Apology, p 12). Socrates and Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. teaches us the nature and importance of living the examined life through their several actions and proposals.
Socrates, the founder of western philosophy, taught the “father of philosophy,” whom we know as Plato. Socrates invented the Socratic Method, as an approach to examining your life. Through dialogue, he investigated the ideas purported by individuals. In these conversations, it was not about what these people had done but why, understanding our reasoning behind our actions, rather than just allowing someone else’s false understanding of us affect our lives. Why is this important? Socrates believes that “the examined life is a central explanation of what makes it a virtuous life” (IvyPanda, p. 1). In order to live a “virtuous” life, we have to be wise in our decision making, wisdom being reflective to our life’s actions. We must question ourselves on what it means to live a good life and how we should go about our life journey. If we do not live an examined life, according to Socrates, we will be dumbfounded of how to live a “virtuous” life.
In Socrates, “The Apology,” he demonstrates how the examined life calls us to be honest and think critically, even at the greatest cost. In his case, the greatest cost was the death penalty and he knew anything he said in that moment would not free him from this punishment. The Athenian’s accused Socrates of “corrupting the young” of Athens (Apology, p. 5). They also put him on trial for not “believe(ing) in the gods in whom the city believes in,” but challenges them in their knowledge of the gods***. He forces them to think critically in what they are claiming as a crime. Point after point, Socrates continues to efficiently fight the accusations against him, but is still found guilty. He had rather die than give up his philosophical mindset and live in silence. This is the way Socrates calls us to live our lives. Throughout “The Apology,” he uses his philosophical approach from beginning to end, constantly examining the jury and, in a way, forcing them to examine their own thought processes.
The “nonviolent direct-action program” was put into place by Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. in 1963, as a way to encourage a change in unjust laws. King describes the nonviolent direct-action method as a way “to create such a crisis and establish such creative tension as a part of the work of the nonviolent resister” (Letter from Birmingham Jail, p. 2). He relates his definition of “tension” to how Socrates called society to break away from falsities by creating “tension” in our minds. In the same way, King wants strain in society that will allow men, like himself, to escape constant signs of “prejudice and racism” and instead recognize how others think and the importance of fellowship (Letter from Birmingham Jail, p.2). Through this proposal, King wanted to put this unjust lifestyle on the forefront, so the issue can no longer be ignored. For some, it might have made them uncomfortable to recognize the oppression of Black citizens forcibly through King’s letter.
Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. lived an examined life, which is evident through his Letter from Birmingham Jail, which he wrote after being imprisoned in Birmingham, Alabama. In his letter, he is speaking directly to the clergymen, one of his opening points reminding us that we are all American citizens, no matter what our racial background is. He wants the clergymen to not be upset about the demonstrations he was arrested for, but understand the meaning behind them and how the Black community has no choice but to be upset. King places an emphasis on “negotiation” as one of four basic steps in a nonviolent campaign (Letter from Birmingham Jail, p. 2). He agrees with them in their “call for negotiation,” highlighting the fact that the South has been composed of more “monologue(s) rather than dialogue(s)” (Letter from Birmingham Jail, p.2). This is one of his sole purposes of the nonviolent direct-action program, presented as a way for them to “negotiate” or work through their differences in a way that is just rather than unjust.
Both King and Socrates were imprisoned for standing up for things that the people surrounding them did not agree with. In Kings speech, he asks many questions forcing his readers to think critically which is what the examined life calls us to do. In a similar way, Socrates constantly asks questions in his dialogues to challenge his accusers. They both use the idea of examined life to advocate against unjust laws that they felt were a disadvantage to their societies. Socrates served as an inspiration to King in his efforts to fight for his cause and what he believed in. They both were intentional and efficient in the things they said in these sources that we read. They constantly examined their lives, distinguishing right from wrong, what it meant to live virtuously, what it meant to think critically and challenging people to try to understand your way of thinking instead of allowing them to have the incorrect view of your thought processes, which was the case for both advocates.
In present day, I believe living the examined life is extremely relevant. Even without realizing, we all live this way in our day to day lives. As college students, we are enrolled in classes constantly attaining wisdom and intellectual humility. It is important that we examine ourselves to become successful and in order to do so, we have to first know ourselves and understand our beliefs. Also, we should remain present and attentive at all times, so that we are not caught by surprise with the thing’s life may throw our way. We also have to be open to the views and mindsets of others. These are all things that, in my understanding, play a huge role in living the examined life that Socrates and King calls us to live. This is why I believe it is an important concept and using the above points, we are destined for success.