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The Concept of an Examined Life Was Introduced by Socrates and Recorded by Plato, in Apology

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Evelyn Schechter

This week in class we were introduced to the topic of our first essay: determining whether an examined life is the only morally worthwhile life. The concept of an examined life was introduced by Socrates and recorded by Plato, in Apology. We were also provided with a recommended process by which to write this argumentative essay within “Defending a Thesis in an Argumentative Essay” by Lewis Vaughn. Finally, Plato’s Euthyphro was used to reinforce the correct use of logic in an argumentative essay.

Socrates defends himself against charges of practicing and unlawful teaching of atheism in Apology. Despite its name, Socrates does no apologizing for his alleged crimes, instead arguing that his teachings were in support of the gods and his persecution was purely due to personal grudges. The god oracle Delphi had decreed that Socrates was the wisest man. Socrates disagreed, so he searched for evidence of this claim, comparing his wisdom with those known to be wise. Each politician, poet, and artisan confronted was labelled ignorant by Socrates, creating countless enemies. In the end, Socrates is sentenced to death for his crimes, but argues that an unexamined life is not morally worth living; he would rather die than live an unexamined life. In Apology, Socrates argued the examined life is the only life morally worth living and in the Euthyphro he provides us with an illustration of a typical examination.

In Euthyphro, Socrates discusses the definition of piety with his friend Euthyphro, who is participating in a trial against his father. Euthyphro’s father chained a drunken murderer and left him for days. The murderer died in his chains, leaving Euthyphro’s father as a possible murderer as well. Attempting to be pious, Euthyphro planned to testify against his father, but was confronted by others about his definition of piety. Therefore, Socrates and Euthyphro discuss possible definitions for piety, while Socrates points out flaws in Euthyphro’s logic. Throughout the discourse, the definition of piety in that circumstance is improved. As we saw in Euthyphro, the goal of an examination is to give a philosophical defensible account of the meaning of a key ethical term (like piety), and in our discussion of argumentative essays we learned how to organize a good philosophical defense.

Vaughn recommends a writing process similar to the scientific method; choose a topic, research the topic, form opinions to create a thesis, create an outline, and finally begin drafting and revising. Within this overall process, Vaughn recommends creating patterns within and between the paragraphs. Within each paragraph, he stresses the need to thoroughly explain each argument and why it makes logical sense. Between paragraphs, he suggests bouncing between an argument and a possible counterargument, explaining why the opposing view is flawed. These patterns and a general writing style are demonstrated in an example essay, “Should Relatively Affluent People Help the Poor?” by Kathleen Moore.

Overall, this week was used to introduce us to philosophical thinking by reading a classic philosopher’s work, as well as reviewing the proper writing process for a philosophical paper. Apology and Euthyphro by Plato reflected Socrates’ idea of an examined life and what an examined life entails, while Vaughn provided an overview on writing an argumentative essay.


  1. Plato.  Apology.  Translated by Benjamin Jowett.  The Internet Archive, 2009. http://classics.mit.edu/Plato/apology.html.
  2. Plato.  Euthyphro.  Translated by Benjamin Jowett.  The Internet Archive, 2009. http://classics.mit.edu/Plato/euthyfro.html.
  3. Vaughn, Lewis.  Writing Philosophy.  Oxford.  2005.  Chapter IV
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