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The Idea of Critical Thinking in Plato's Apology

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There is a reason we question the things around us, as we are naturally curious people. Life is so much more than just being on earth, life is about finding and creating yourself, it is creating bonds between people and things. We are constantly searching for something to make us feel like life is worth living, that we have something to offer the world. Socrates believed that “the unexamined life is not worth living”1 and this is what he taught to his pupils. Socrates’s “Apology” is his defense against the court of Athens and his attempt at saving himself from being convicted for false accusations.

Socrates begins by telling a story about a man named Chaerephon who questioned the Oracle of Delphi if there was anyone wiser than Socrates, to which the oracle replies that there was not.2 Puzzled upon hearing this news, Socrates decides to test the Oracle’s theory by interviewing people that were deemed wise by others such as poets, politicians and craftsmen. The poets, although they had great work, could not explain the stories behind their craft. Next, he interviewed the politicians, who were very ignorant and seemed to think that they could speak intelligently about topics. Lastly, Socrates interviewed craftsmen, who also had great craft skills, but felt that because they excelled in one area, they could talk about everything else. After interviewing more people, Socrates realized that the higher the title ranking, the less wise people were. People of Athens were not pleased with his discovery and disliked him because he was proving authority figures unwise. Despite a collective hatred from the town’s people, Socrates continued to believe that it was his duty to teach people who thought they were wise that they actually were not.

Socrates claims “the unexamined life is not worth living” in his defense, stating:

For if I tell you that this would be a disobedience to a divine command, and therefore that I cannot hold my tongue, you will not believe that I am serious; and if I say again that the greatest good of man is daily to converse about virtue, and all that concerning which you hear me examining myself and others, and that the life which is unexamined is not worth living – that you are still less likely to believe. (Apology, 28.)

This ties into the statement about the Oracle. Socrates could have chosen to believe that he was indeed the smartest person because someone told him so, but he decided to question what was said. He is saying that only we can try to know ourselves and decide if our lives have any meaning or value. It is up to us to question the world and ourselves, or we will act without abandon. We will not be able to tell the difference between good decisions and bad decisions.

The above quote can have many different meanings to many different people, but this quote is understood as you can either let people make decisions for you or you can make the decisions for yourself. Socrates is saying to learn and understand what we are taught, but to also think about it and try to understand it on a deeper level. Hence, Critical Thinking, which makes us think long and hard about what we are learning in order to fully grasp the concept. If one does not think critically, the impact can be quite different. Thinking and questioning things around us allow us to have a deeper understanding of our world, how we function as human beings, what our roles as people are on the Earth.

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The Idea of Critical Thinking in Plato’s Apology. (2019, September 13). GradesFixer. Retrieved March 21, 2023, from
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