In Plato’s The Apology, he tells the story of Socrates’ speech he made while on trial for not believing in the gods that the state said all persons were supposed to believe in. In this speech, Socrates is not actually apologizing for any of his actions in the modern sense. Back in Ancient Greece, the apology was actually the term for defense. Throughout the speech, Socrates doesn’t use any special or particularly impressive language by doing this he conveyed his honesty and directness. He tells the jury about a prophecy he received from the oracle that he was the wisest man on earth. He recognized that he doesn’t know nearly everything there is to know, so he concluded that he must be the wisest man because he knows that he actually knows nothing.
For him to spread this knowledge, he set out to question “wise” men and basically prove them wrong and expose that they, in fact, are not all that wise. These actions did grant him lots of support from the young people of Greece, however, it also made the powerful men he was exposing very mad. This is ultimately how he ended up on trial. In the end, he is sentenced to death and in a final stand tells the jury they are hurting themselves by not listening to criticisms and living an unexamined life. Socrates is accurate in this statement, that one cannot better themselves without listening and acting upon criticisms. That being said, living an unexamined life is not without its virtues, it can be more fun.
Living an examined life is definitely fulfilling and probably leads to becoming a better, more successful person. This is the result of finding your own flaws and bettering them or recognizing them and learning how to manage them. There are a few specific ways that examining oneself leads to a better livelihood. First, examining your core beliefs leads to a deeper understanding of why you feel the way you do. Where the root of your core beliefs comes from not only helps when arguing them but can also help in finding flaws in those beliefs. In the world today, we see many examples of how not examining one’s own beliefs can lead to small-mindedness and intolerance. Many people carry certain beliefs but don’t ever stop to ask themselves why they feel the way they do, or if their reasoning is logical. The ability to reason logically is something unique to mankind and Socrates was likely referring to this in his speech about self-examination.
Another positive of living an examined life is that that you are constantly bettering yourself. Rather than either thinking you are already perfect or just being content with where you are in life, people who are constantly examining themselves aren’t settling with where they are at. They are always looking to get better in some aspect of their life. In this respect, it is probably safe to assume that those who have a habit of employing self-examination in their daily lives are generally more successful.
The third positive outcome of examining oneself is that you become less impressionable. Those that do not examine themselves, both their behaviors and beliefs, have less understanding of why they behave in that way. Having a deep understanding of your reasoning for your actions makes you less easy to be influenced. This is not to say that self-examination closes you off completely to the influence of others, but that you won’t do it mindlessly, and realize that you have changed after it happens. Along with this, self-examination leads to a better sense of self and a deeper understanding of who you are. Those who know who they are less likely to try and be somebody else.
With all of these positive outcomes related to practicing self-examination, you could wonder why anybody wouldn’t. Not examining yourself is a lot easier. Remaining blind to your own flaws is a lot less painful. Figuring out “who you are” is time-consuming, and some might even say scary. So, simply put, self-examination is a lot of hard work, and not terribly fun. In contrast, not worrying about your meaning and flaws is fun, stress-free, and easy.
Socrates obviously felt that his life held substantial meaning and that all lives had the potential to be meaningful. This contrasts with one of the main themes Albert Camus was trying to convey in The Stranger, that all lives are equally meaningless. According to this, because the only thing that is certain in life is death, then no life truly holds meaning because, in the grand scheme of things, lives are over and forgotten quickly.
In conclusion, there is probably some sort of happy medium when it comes to regularly examine yourself and not being concerned with your personal growth at all. Too much self-examination could lead to anxiety and just general overthinking. However not examining your life at all would just hinder your own success. Finding someplace in the middle of those two extremes hopefully will lead you to be both happy and successful, but each person needs to define what sort of happiness and success that they desire in life first to determine the right mix. Socrates definitely had a point that a life without criticism would mean that the human race itself would never improve, even if he did take it to the extreme.