How to Examine Philosophy
Updated: Nov 21
Critique of Approach
If there is an insulting saying in philosophy, it might be Socrates' quote, "The unexamined life is not worth living". It's insulting because, if true, it doesn't matter if you've done great things in life, raised a happy family, or donated to charity. According to this quote, it is sufficient to overlook or ignore existential contemplation in order to have a worthless life. It's as if, no matter what you'll do, as long as you won't dare to think reflect deeply on your life, it would be meaningless.
Philosophers can be very blunt by the very fact that they state their claims and explain them. People can unnecessarily be insulted and feel as if they are being arrogant. As if philosophy is the proudful display of one's intellect. In reality, we're just doing our jobs, just as did Socrates when he valued in high regard the importance of examining life.
PC culture is in the way of philosophy because logic care less for one's sentiments. The role of philosophy isn't to be politically correct but to explore reality despite of personal sentiments. It is the professional thing to do, and as such, no one really has any reason to be insulted by a philosopher who is simply practicing his craft.
As such, such statements such as Socrates should not offend you because what matters in philosophy is the logical reasoning of such claims, and not what they make you feel. It matters if it's true or not, not if they make you feel comfortable or uncomfortable. Study the way of being a "Rubinshteinic Butcher" and you too can become mentally tougher over such remarks.
We live in an era of post-truth. Post-truth essentially means that we may disregard fact in favor of opinion and subjective experience. In same cases you may find that people may use terms like "in my opinion" just to make themselves sound humble and not arrogant. That is because being assertive can threathen some people's lack of self confidence.
But the thing is, the the competent philosopher speaks to mainly to the intellect of his or her audience, not to their hearts. Even when emotion is involved, it is reason that is prioritized. That's becuase philosophy isn't about the quality of one's experience when consuming philosophy, but about their ability to understand what they've just read/consumed, and whether or not the content is logical and true.
Let your emotion be too much in the way and you will hinder yourself from understanding a philosophical text.
Example of how to Approach Philosophy Properly
So, let us, for the sake of this article, examine Socrates' quote from how a philosophy follower's perspective, and not otherwise:
Is it that bad a "sin", to not examine life? Why is examination such an elevated value that it transcends all other actions and devotions throughout one's life?
My theory in regard to this issue is that examination isn't that grandiose in importance anymore, because philosophy isn't that imperative anymore, like other fields of knowledge. One of the reasons is because the former isn't as accurate as the latter. The functionality of philosophy has drastically changed over human history, to the point that much of its role has been taken by science.
However, it wasn't necessarily the case in Socrates' period, where philosophy began to evolve. A period where great thinkers emerged and formed schools of thought. Therefore, one can say that much of what we claim to be true is largely influenced by the setting we were initally in.
It was before capitalism emerged as the typical mindset of many. Socrates and many others didn't care about making as much money as possible, as some of us may do. They cared more about the wonders of reality, and the desire to understand them. They cared less about the profitability of these functions because they valued depth over revenue.
Nowadays philosophy may be regarded as irrelevant simply because it is not as profitable beyond academia. That perspective is part of the mercenary's mindset that's been normalized as humanity became more industrious in nature. In other words, the industrial revolution contributed much to putting financial self-interest in higher regard, over what we're actually doing for a living. Even though philosophy can be regarded as science, contemporary science requires experimentation. A philosopher might as well just think philosophically and leave it at that.
To put it simply, examining one's life isn't that relevant anymore when you can search online about things regarding your situation, receive a professional diagnosis from a doctor, learn the effect of your nutrition on your body, and better yet, learn who you are from a psychologist.
The many sources of knowledge have drastically increased, to the point where they can, in theory, overpower the functionality philosophy has left in this age. An age where sources are more valued than logical insight.
Hence, I think Socrates' quote, although insulting to some, is no longer relevant. Philosophy might have been the father of all sciences, but nowadays it is more difficult to call it a science any longer. It is also difficult to say that the unexamined life is not worth living when there are other priorities at play, such as doing our jobs and putting food on the table. Is philosophical contemplation important as much as these essential functionalities?
It is interesting because philosophy is now more of a part of the humanities than an actual science. There is no experimentation like in contemporary science, but instead it relies far more on logical cohesiveness and the attempt to commit as few fallacies as possible. There may be thought experiments but they are always in the field of theory, like most philosophy is. And those who don't bother learning fallacies, might struggle to understand the logic behind philosophical texts.
Still, philosophy is still important to some due to the fact that it's basically a union between logic and existential topics. Reduce any of these values, and you won't get philosophy. That's all philosophy has left: examining, through thinking about deep topics in an attempt to find a possible truth.
Unlike science, it's very reasonable that there isn't any one thing that all philosophers can agree upon, and that is because it is sufficient to find one who disagrees in order to prove this claim. This further complicates the search for truth in contemporary philosophy, where everything can be questionable, with the very real likelihood of not finding truth in the process.
Philosophical examination is also very frustrating to most, as it often appears that there is no conclusion to the many ramblings philosophers make. Since it can be very tiring, some people may fall into the fallacy that tiring complexity is worthless, and therefore, philosophy is worthless.
However, let us not delude ourselves away from the fact that existence itself is complex, and not only in the field of philosophy. The brain, for example, is extremely complicated, yet it's one of the most functional organs in the body. Thus, complexity alone is insufficient to conclude worthlessness.
Thus, since existence is complex and since we are a part of it, un-examination might not be as unworthy as Socrates has argued, but at least we can rest assured that examining our lives, our role within it, and our current situation can still greatly contribute to our lives. Thus, while not a necessary requirement for a well-lived life, examination can hold practical value.
Whether you're looking for a job, a partner in life, or a vision to pursue, examining your life can assist you in finding the life you wish to live. Ultimately, the examination of life lies in this: in acquiring more self-knowledge, something that cannot be acquired through physics, biology, and so on. Perhaps not even by psychology exclusively.
Know yourself better and you can plan ahead better.