December 6, 2011

Socrates Was Right About the Unexamined Life

SocratesIn Apology, Plato quotes Socrates as saying, "The unexamined life is not worth living for a human being." I couldn't agree more. That is not to say that one cannot be happy living an unexamined life; many people manage to do it every day. But for the thinkers among us, it is unimaginable to trade reasoned inquiry for happiness. It is not simply that we enjoy thinking, although some of us certainly do. Rather, it is that we cannot imagine living our lives in any other way. It is in our nature to question things which others seem to take for granted.

I can think of many examples in my own life how my refusal to take things for granted has alienated me from others. The two primary ones would have to be tradition and social norms. I regularly question both, and I readily discard those which I can find no reason to maintain.

The reason I do not celebrate Christmas has virtually nothing to do with atheism. I do not celebrate it because I see no reason to do so. I derive no pleasure in it, and it serves no real purpose for me. I realize it is part of the cultural tradition in which I was raised, but I've discarded that part of the tradition in much the same way I discarded the religious parts. The fact that it is tradition has never been a sufficient reason to maintain it. Many people do not understand this, and so I end up being at odds with them.

The reason I do not say anything when someone sneezes has virtually nothing to do with atheism. I have not been superstitious since I was a child. I see no point in uttering magic incantations when someone sneezes, so I do not do so. I realize that there are strong social norms suggesting that I do and that some people will consider my silence rude. I can live with that.

I'm not here to be a robot. I'm not here to follow authority in blind submission. I'm here to ask questions, to seek answers, and to think to the best of my ability. And I'm increasingly willing to go wherever that takes me.

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