"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).



This statement relates to Socrates' understanding and attitude towards death and his commitment to fulfilling 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'être. 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.[1]



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.[2]



Socrates believed that philosophy – the love 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.[3][4]


  1. ^ Brickhouse, Thomas C.; Smith, Nicholas D. (1994). Plato's Socrates. Oxford University Press. pp. 201–. ISBN 978-0-19-510111-9.
  2. ^ Julian Baggini - Wisdom's folly The Guardian newspaper (Guardian News and Media Limited) Thursday 12 May 2005
  3. ^ Spivey, Nigel; Squire, Michael (1 March 2011). Panorama of the Classical World. Getty Publications. pp. 230–. ISBN 978-1-60606-056-8.
  4. ^ D.M. Johnson - Socrates and Athens (p.74) Cambridge University Press, 31 Mar 2011 ISBN 0521757487 [Retrieved 2015-04-25]