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Plato's Examined Life
According to Plato, while we ought to value living good lives, an examined life is the only life worth living. Plato expands upon Socrates' ideas of an examined life in many of his works. Such a life requires daily introspection and reflection on the life, especially on the nature of virtue. Socrates' goal is to install reason as the judge of one's drives. The lack of self-knowledge is, in the philosopher's opinion, a major killer of the examine life.
Plato's character, Euthyphro, is one who lacks self-knowledge. In Plato's story, Euthyphro files murder charges against his own father. When defending his actions, Euthyphro tells his side of the story to the philosopher Socrates.
He says that one of his dependent workers got drunk one night and killed a domestic servant of the family. When Euthyphro's father heard what had happened, he punished the worker severely by bounding him and leaving him unfed and unattended to.
Euthyphro's father then went to the religious authorities for advice on what to do about the murderer. While the father was contemplating his actions, the worker died of overexposure or starvation.
Euthyphro was very angry with his father and felt that his father deserved to be punished because of his treatment of the worker. His family and friends were outraged that he would even think such a thing, but Euthyphro was convinced.
Euthyphro tells Socrates that filing charges is the only pious thing to do. Euthyphro views himself as a deeply pious who is not like the others, who feel he should place loyalty to his family above all else, including doing what is morally correct.
Socrates tried to get Euthyphro to think about whether he really understands his own actions. He does this by asking Euthyphro what is the meaning of piety. Euthyphro gives examples of what he regards as pious behavior but Socrates says that a definition of piety must show what all examples of piety have in common. Euthyphro finally offers the following definition: Piety is that which is dear to the gods. Socrates next proceeds to show that this definition is inadequate. He provides two important arguments.
Socrates' first argument stems from the accepted fact that the gods do not always agree with one another. If we accept the two following propositions: Piety is what is dear to the gods and what is dear to some gods is not necessarily dear to others, then it is inevitable that things may be both pious and impious at the same time.
Socrates then shows Euthyphro that even he does not really even accept his own definition of pious. Socrates asks him: Is something pious because it is dear to the gods, or, rather, is it dear to the gods because it is holy?
Socrates believes that if something is holy in virtue of being dear to the gods, then it would lose its holiness if it was no longer dear to the gods. But this contradicts the assumption that holiness is eternal and must be holy forever. Therefore, the second proposition is correct, according to Socrates. Something is dear to the gods because it is holy.
Euthyphro demonstrates a lack of self-knowledge by revealing that he does not really understand why he is prosecuting his father. He believes that his actions are pious but has no idea what piety is.
Even at the end of the story, Euthyphro believes he really does know what piety is, but cannot explain it. Plato makes his case for the importance of self-knowledge and an examined life by showing how much harm can be done when a lack of self-knowledge is mixed with a smug feeling of moral superiority over others.
In the Allegory of the Cave in Plato's The Republic, Plato writes that every person is similar to prisoners chained up on the floor of a cave. Humans are so restricted that they can only look in one direction, and in that direction, we see shadows on the wall that seem to talk and move around.
With their fellow prisoners, they observe, discuss, and remember what these shadows do or say. Plato contemplates a world where everyone is released from these chains.
The released "prisoners" would suddenly we realize that all the…[continue]
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