The Ethical Implications of Socrates Claim The Unexamined Life is Not worth Living for Contemporary American Society

Socrates assertion that the the unexamined life is not worth living is based on the recognition of what is good as directly and necessarily connected to philosophy or the pursuit of knowledge. If individuals refused to question themselves, particularly their intentions, actions and the consequences of their behavior, then actions are likely done without concern for reasonable behavior (The Apology, 2010). Without reason, there will be no distinction between what is right and wrong or what is good and bad. The achievement of the uniform goal to have a good life requires the use of reason to accommodate not only personal but also collective interests (Nails, 2009). Reason based on knowledge and its pursuit becomes the moderating factor ensuring the balance between personal and collective interests to create the good life. With reason, people can have an in-depth understanding of other people and situations relative to themselves and the manner that they influence others and social conditions. By living an examined life, people can improve their lives and contribute to bettering the lives of others.

The disposition towards questioning once intentions, actual actions, and consequences was practiced by Socrates through the tool of discourse or dialogue. Dialogue is the process of exploring the truth free from bias (The Apology, 2010). This is different from debate, which uses information to win an argument. Discourse is communication using a series of questions that hones listening and pondering skills before expressing agreement or disagreement.

Socrates assertion and methods had ethical implications during his time, which eventually led to his trial and death. Now, these are often cited in the context of contemporary American society but the application and significance has changed and ethical implications are not as clear cut.

Individualism  Collectivism
The examined life propounds the consideration of the good life not just for oneself but also for everybody (Nails, 2009). This means the consideration of individual interest relative to the collective interest. By using reason supported by the pursuit of knowledge, decisions and actions are able to mediate between individual and collective interests in the pursuit of the good life for the members of society.

The ethical implication of this in contemporary American society is the determination of the good life as accommodating individual and collective needs (Nails, 2009). Modern America respects fundamental rights and liberties to allow individual freedom in pursuing personal goals. Business or trade operates within a free policy to enable business firms and consumers to determine the price of consumer products based on the link between demand and supply. While market forces determine the goods produced, the quantity produced, and the price of products, there are also regulations set in place serving as equalizers to prevent abuse by stronger forces in markets with few sellers and many buyers. Individuals are also free to negotiate employment with companies. To equalize the employer-employee relations, labor laws were enacted to prevent abuse. Individuals are also free to engage in social relations and pursue family life. There are commonly applicable civil laws to facilitate family relations within limits.

However, the balance between individualism and collectivism is complex in the American society. America strongly leans towards individualistic values in the pursuit of the good life. The pressures of commercialism created the expectation of individual pursuit of interests in obtaining income and other resources to address needs and wants (McDonough  Boyd, 2009). These express the American dream or the good life. With these occupying most of the time of individuals, there is not much room for examination.

Minority  Majority
Socrates idea of the examined life utilizes dialogue or discourse to facilitate listening and thinking without prejudice by moving beyond minority and majority status. Communication acts as the catalyst that fosters understanding across cultures, race, genders, and ages. With communication, peoples actions are likely within reason.

This has ethical implications on contemporary American society by providing a means through which to mediate understanding across cultures, races, religions, gender, age and other constructs expressing minority and majority in society (The Apology, 2010). America is a multicultural society comprised of peoples of different nationalities and racial backgrounds. The process of examination and the thrust towards reasoned actions ensures that policies and practices in America are without undue prejudice to minorities. An example of the outcome of an examined life in contemporary American society is the use of industry standards or the application of the last-in-first-out policy in selecting the people to retain and let go during reorganization. The emergence of these labor policies emerged after consideration of standards that do not prejudice certain groups by reason of minority. There are also other examples of practices in America that accommodate people regardless of minority or majority status.

However, there are institutional structures in place that are not supportive of reflective attitude or practice but which are considered mechanism for the good life. The electoral system in America is bipartisan to support the selection of leaders based on partisan affiliation. Reflective practice over good voting behavior that considers multiple interests and the bottom line needs of society is limited by partisanship. The educational system is also geared towards gainful employment. The curriculum has limited focus on contemplative and discourse skills and learning is done for employment and not for its own sake.

Change  Stability
Socrates assertion of a life of examination is geared towards the continuous quest for knowledge and use of reason in decisions and actions. Continuous examination yields to the areas for improvement or areas that block development and progress. Through discourse, these areas are identified and evaluated to come up with solutions that are likely to require change. Those areas that sustain social good are retained and stabilized.

The ethical implication on contemporary American society is the consideration of needed change and how to make the changes as well as the retention and reinforcement of policies and practices that contribute to the achievement of the good life. The process sets out right and wrong actions. Examination is part of social change. During the onset of the financial crisis that caused a recession in America, there was intense discourse over the major causes and the manner of responding to the problem. Discussions represented different perspectives covering the economic, political, social and legal aspects of the problem. Ideas were presented to members of the academe and policymakers who listened and considered these ideas before presenting their agreement or disagreement. The result is recognition of poor regulation of the subprime market as a major cause of the financial crisis and the area for improvement.

However, there are limitations to examination. While discourse in the Socratic sense can encourage ideas from different perspectives, these do not automatically translate to rational solutions or to the implementation of rational responses. Again, institutional structures that comprise the foundation of American society support examination but these structures also limit rational decisions and actions. Politicizing often dominates decision-making on certain issues and these decisions are acceptable to members of society such as the initial active support and lack of protest over war as the response to the 911 attacks.

Short  Long-Term Outcomes
A life of examination as propounded by Socrates involves continuous discourse and contemplation to build knowledge and hone rationality. The target of a life of examination can be short term or long-term outcomes that can encompass minor or major results. Ultimately, short-term results contribute to the achievement of the good life in the long-term.

The ethical implication of Socrates life of examination is the end of dialogue and reason in considering whether to adopt a short or long-term perspective over issues as well as the solutions to these issues. In the case of the financial crisis that caused large banks to file for bankruptcy, the short term solution is government bailout. The capital infused into the banks was intended to keep the banks afloat and prevent permanent closure. This solution emerged from the consideration of the rational response to imminent bankruptcy in the short-term to protect the interest of depositors and investors as well as prevent the serious impact on the banking sector. The long-term response is reform of the banking policies and pertinent government regulation. On the issue of terrorism, the short-term response was war and the long-term response were improvements in security competencies and better international relations.

However, what is rational in the short-term based on examination is not necessarily rational in the long-term or intended outcomes in the short-term do not automatically augment long-term outcomes . On the economic crisis, the short-term response of bailout was considered a rational solution in the short term but this worsened government deficit to the detriment of economic stability in the long-term. The war on terror led to the capture of some terrorist leaders but this came at the cost of the lives of American soldiers, inter-cultural enmity, division of society, and massive depletion of resources causing fiscal deficit to the detriment of programs on education, health and social welfare.

Socrates claim of the unexamined life as not worth living gives rise to two points. The first point is the accumulation of knowledge and the use of reason in determining good and bad action and decisions. Socrates was a proponent of the philosophical life as the way of creating a good life for society and its individual members. Rationality is what guides people in pursuing the good life. The second point is the role of dialogue or discourse in the quest for truth to support knowledge building and rational decision-making. Dialogue means exploration of knowledge to seek understanding without prejudice.

The tenets of Socrates examined life have ethical implications on contemporary American society in four areas. One implication is on the ethical considerations in balancing individualism and collectivism. By balancing interests, the outcome is social good. In the contemporary American society, the balance is observed in laws and policies that support individual freedoms together with regulation to a certain extent to ensure equality and prevent abuse. However, in American society the idea of the good life leans more towards individualism. Another implication is on the consideration of the minority and majority interests in establishing the good life. Modern America is multicultural and the consideration of minority interests facilitates inter-cultural understanding. However, America has stable institutions that do not strongly support reflective practice. Still another implication is on the role of examination in change and stability in pursuing the good life. Examination points to problems and solutions but these do not necessarily ensure effective implementation. The last implication is on the achievement of short and long-term good outcomes. Examination supports positive short and long-term outcomes. However, there may be conflict between short and long-term outcomes in certain contemporary situations even with examination practiced in the short-term.


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