Sunday, September 30, 2012

Wise Living Tips from the Ancients: 1. Socrates

In this series of short articles you will discover how some of the greatest minds of the ancient world can help you live wisely today. Today, we will begin with Socrates and the good life question

  If you’d been wondering around Athens a couple of thousand years ago, you might well have stumbled upon an eccentric looking, shabby, shoeless guy engaging people in deep conversation about the things that matter in life. This man was Socrates, and he came to be regarded as one of the greatest of all philosophers. He might well have asked you the question “"What is the good life?" and expected you to be able to give an answer.  It wouldn’t matter if your first answer was only a first stab – he would help be the midwife to you producing a better answer in due course. The important thing is to get the process started.

So I’m going to put the same challenge to you as Socrates did to the citizens of Athens.  What do you think the good life (for you) is? What do I need to flourish as a human being?

My definition of the good life (for me) is

Spend no more than 3 minutes on coming up with a first stab, but make sure you write something down

Some possible  (not necessarily good) answers include :
“Being successful”
“Making the world a better place”
 “Sex, drugs and rock’n’roll’
 “Being famous”

If Socrates were with you, he would then ask some probing questions which might well lead you to question your answer.  For example, if you've written
"Being successful" he might ask you "But what if you are a success but not happy?".

Spend another 3 minutes "Playing Socrates" and trying to improve your original definition.
For example, if you wrote "being successful" you might like to change this to "being successful and happy".

Over the next week, spend 5 minutes each day reflecting on your definition. Play Socrates and try to find faults with it. Some questions to ask yourself include
* What do I mean by X .... (e.g. what do I mean by happiness?)
* When I have been X in the past, has that been when I have been flourishing or leading the good life?
* Have I ever been flourishing in the past and not been X? If so, what other ingredients are important for the good life?
* What would people with different views to me about life say about my definition? Could I answer them back?
* What will be important for me looking back from the vantage point of the end of my life? 
* Have I given enough prominence to having positive experiences?
* Have I given enough prominence to making a  positive difference to the world?
Over the next week I will also be posting articles from some of the other ancient philosophers, who will give different perspectives to the good life and so will inform your answer...

Let me know how you get on 

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