An Unexamined Dictum

‘An unexamined life is not worth living’ seems like it might be a rather classist thing to say.

Who has access to the time or extra mental bandwidth to conduct an ‘adequate’ examination of their life?

Who determines the degree of examination required to make life worth living?

Does it follow that people who have spent the most time in rigorous self-examination truly have the most worthwhile lives? Should we think of tenured, ivory tower philosophers as leading the most worthwhile lives on the basis of the time they have to devote to self-reflection?

If someone cannot achieve the ‘ideal level’ of self-examination, does it make sense to say their life is truly worthless? According to who? According to whose metric of adequate self-examination?

Whose class, caste, and careers are validated by this dictum — and at the expense of whom? Whose existence is labelled as the apparent ‘victim’ of this advice? Do we suppose Plato meant this maxim to be as relevant to all the slaves of ancient Greece as was to the propertied aristocrats?

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6 Replies to “An Unexamined Dictum”

  1. @jamesshelley Thank you for sharing that. I work with a non-profit hoping to increase reflective practice in social innovation and systems change, and we are grappling with the inherent privilege in being able to reflect at all, as we develop our programs.

  2. @petebrown Some certainly seems inherently better than none. And doing nothing with one’s life except thinking about life seems unfruitful too. But who gets to define when another life is literally not worth living? That seems really, really problematic the more I think about it.

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