The unexamined life is not worth living. - Socrates
Published: Aug 15, 2022
"The unexamined life is not worth living." - Socrates

"The unexamined life is not worth living" is a famous dictum supposedly uttered by Socrates at his trial for impiety and corrupting youth, for which he was subsequently sentenced to death. The dictum is recorded in Plato's Apology (38a5–6) as ho dè anexétastos bíos ou biōtòs anthrṓpōi (ὁ δὲ ἀνεξέταστος βίος οὐ βιωτὸς ἀνθρώπῳ).

The words were supposedly spoken by Socrates at his trial after he chose death, rather than exile. They represent (in modern terms) the noble choice, that is, the choice of death in the face of an alternative.


This statement relates to Socrates' understanding and attitude towards death and his commitment to fulfill his goal of investigating and understanding the statement of the Pythia (i.e. that there was no one wiser than Socrates). Socrates understood the Pythia's response to Chaerephon's question as a communication from the god Apollo and this became Socrates's prime directive, his raison d'etre. For Socrates, to be separated from elenchus by exile (preventing him from investigating the statement) was therefore a fate worse than death. Since Socrates was religious and trusted his religious experiences, such as his guiding daimonic voice, he accordingly preferred to continue to seek the truth to the answer to his question, in the after-life, than live a life not identifying the answer on earth.


Socrates believed that philosophy – the study of wisdom – was the most important pursuit above all else. For some, he exemplifies more than anyone else in history the pursuit of wisdom through questioning and logical argument, by examining and by thinking. His "examination" of life in this way spilled out into the lives of others, such that they began their own "examination" of life, but he knew they would all die one day, as saying that a life without philosophy – an "unexamined" life – was not worth living.


Socrates was a Greek philosopher from Athens who is credited as the founder of Western philosophy and among the first moral philosophers of the ethical tradition of thought. An enigmatic figure, Socrates authored no texts and is known mainly through the posthumous accounts of classical writers, particularly his students Plato and Xenophon. These accounts are written as dialogues, in which Socrates and his interlocutors examine a subject in the style of question and answer; they gave rise to the Socratic dialogue literary genre. Contradictory accounts of Socrates make a reconstruction of his philosophy nearly impossible, a situation known as the Socratic problem. Socrates was a polarizing figure in Athenian society. In 399 BC, he was accused of impiety and corrupting the youth. After a trial that lasted a day, he was sentenced to death. He spent his last day in prison, refusing offers to help him escape.

Recent publications from this author (View All)
Related books (View All)