Is An Examined Life Worth Living?

Those of us who love philosophy cannot help but wonder, at least once in a while, whether philosophy is relevant, even necessary, to live today. But we may be blinded by our love of the discipline—to the contemporary world’s eyes, philosophy is at best a plain, dull, and uninviting subject.

It seems there isn’t anything our contemporary world cannot do better or with greater satisfaction in spheres of human activity than philosophical reflection. When the goal of human action is “results,” like those we expect of science, or art, or commerce, philosophy pales by comparison.

We might want to argue for the claim that philosophy’s only value, the only reason why anyone should spend extended amounts of time and energy with it, are the practical benefits its students can bring to a shop-weary world.

While most folks may not have any formal, “professional” acquaintance with the discipline, they do have a natural preponderance for reflecting upon the ordinary, everyday world. That is, upon their ordinary, everyday worlds. When academics try to remind us how much better our lives would be if only we would set just aside a few tasks that are not nearly as important as the life of the mind, we shrug and tell them they don’t have a clue what the “real world” is about.

Humans have a natural inclination to ask why. If we can do that at our leisure, in the small, quiet moments that give us a chance to put together the stories of our lives, we are (for lack of a better word) happy. Academics annoy the rest of us when they refuse to recognize that: 1) in the great curriculum of life, philosophy is an elective, not a required course; and 2) we already examine and critique our lives, we don’t want or need your “help,” thank you very much.

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