Socrates: An unexamined life is not worth living

Socrates and Happpiness : Explanations on the good life

You have to be concerned about what produces happinessEpicurus wrote at the beginning of the Letter to Menoeceus. Beyond the diversity of their theoretical positions, the ancient philosophers have almost never questioned the primacy of a pursuit of happiness, which rather made an absolute prerequisite for them: “Every action and every choice tend to any good “. But ultimate good is happiness (eudaimonia). This inference by Aristotle is widely shared by other philosophers.

Certainly there are far from the desire for happiness for happiness effective, and the Greeks as much as we feared the blows of fate, the reversal of fortune, disease obstacles to the possession of happiness. The latter, facing the inflexible fate to chance or blind, has commonly passed for the most valuable asset at the same time as the more precarious. This idea of ​​fragility of happiness, well thought out in Greek tragedy, the “Ethics” of Aristotle keep track. The latter, taking seriously the idea that no one may be his pleasure before his death, this saying is in some truth, as the blows of fate can even get to “shrink” the happiness of the man whose activity is in accordance with perfect virtue.

Yet this reflection on the fragility of happiness is not philosophically the most important nor the principal. It is rather rooted in the philosophical project, the belief that happiness is indeed correspond to the state of supreme perfection of man, and can be securely reached by a path and a path only, which is precisely that of philosophy. Thus, access to happiness is conditional on what one might call “philosophical conversion,” which determines a change in procedure by which the self no longer obeys other value than that which shows him the reason the rule, and on which he now sets his conduct.

Therefore happiness as a state can only remain sustainable forever forbidden to those who are unable to adhere to the philosophical way of life, their eyes fixed on material goods, toys desires and whims of passion and, however, be at hand for those who, through philosophy, regulate their conduct on the true values. As explained by Socrates in Plato’s Phaedo: “The only good money is the thought. “In fact, Socrates, showing the primacy of virtue over everything else, has linked the interests of virtue and happiness. “It is better to suffer injustice than commit it,” he still said Plato in the Gorgias. Is that, even in the injustice, the happiness of the sage remains untouched, since it relies in particular on the principle of consistency between thought and action. According to the wise Socrates, nothing beats the rectitude of his actions, which can be preserved in the worst situations. This is, in his blueprint, that happiness remains philosophical even in adversity, against all the blows of fate in the same light will fall to the Stoics, asking that virtue is sufficient for happiness.

Certainly, one would think that even Socrates has set back indefinitely the possession of happiness by the following reasoning: happiness depends on virtue, and virtue based on knowledge, yet knowledge is forever looking for what tends to suggest any Socratic questioning. But it does not confirm the impossibility of happiness, rather the need for an ongoing review of the self, which is for him to reside at the heart of philosophical happiness, active, critical. Despite the limitation of human capacity, the absolute conviction to move forward in the path of good, with the support of the argument, and in exchange, which relies on dialogue, in fact, guarantees the stability of happiness. It certainly is, for Socrates, that human happiness, necessarily much lower than that of the gods, but on the contrary “a life unexamined is not worth living” (Plato, Apology).

This tension shows the fruitfulness of the philosophical quest for happiness in ancient times: the eudaimonia is conceived as the provision by which a human life is even reached its perfection. This leads philosophers to establish the rule of primarily philosophical way of life, the only way to effectively ensure the stability of happiness. Thus, according to the Epicureans, nothing can disturb ataraxia blessed coming of the wise state the more pleasant when it is fully based on rational fears and eliminate the right balance of pleasures and pains. Similarly, the happiness of the Stoic, because he is in life according to reason and the suppression of passions, do not suffer much alteration.

In short, be happy, is to be wise. But can we really attain wisdom? And happiness are talking about philosophers would it not have been altogether an unattainable ideal? Plato, it is a fact, supported the idea of ​​an inaccessible state (divine) Sophos, a man not entitled to that of philosophos (Phaedra) and it is also true that Stoics considered access to true wisdom as exceptional. But, beyond the differences between schools in this regard (for the Epicureans the contrary, wisdom is the end of the philosophical conversion), it is fair to say that there has been for the ancient philosophers as a whole at least two levels of achievement ethic, corresponding to the virtue of one hand (the minimum), the wisdom of the other (the ultimate aim).

Virtue is authentic to who performs it accessible to the philosophical conversion. Significant is that operating the link at the beginning of Epicurus Letter to Menoeceus between philosophical inquiry and pursuit of happiness: “He who says that the time for philosophy has not yet come, or that time is past, is like that who, speaking of happiness, says the time has not come or he is gone. “The philosopher of the Garden reconciled by the common life and philosophical life, as it is true that the happy life can not occur outside the practice of philosophy.

This is the highest total lesson of ancient philosophers on happiness: while driving to the control of desires and passions, the practice of philosophy makes lasting happy to offer to escape the ravages of time. Indeed, in the state of happiness the man with a kind of immortality. Human happiness (eudaimonia) tends to turn into a divine happiness (makariotès). At the end of antiquity, Plotinuswrote : “What we want is to be god”

Cite this article as: Tim, "Socrates: An unexamined life is not worth living, May 3, 2012, " in Philosophy & Philosophers, May 3, 2012,

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