Socrates was an ancient Greek philosopher who is regarded as one of the founders of Western philosophy. He is reputed to be one of the scholars who changed the course of philosophy remarkably. He was a widely popular and controversial figure in his day. Even though we have many of his teachings and ideologies, not much is known of his actual life. The little we know about him are details from the writings of his devout followers such as Plato, Aristophanes, and Xenophon. Socrates is renowned for his contributions to the development of the philosophy of ethics, epistemology, and logic. His ideologies were influential in the growth of major philosophical movements and schools such as Aristotetlianism, Stoicism, Platonism, Neo-Platonism, Hedonism, and Cynicism.
Unlike most of the philosophers of his time, who were merely concerned with discovering how the physical world operates, Socrates was more interested in how people should behave. He had a lot of opinions on human issues ranging from happiness to ethics, love, and marriage. But in this article, our chief concern will be finding out his views on how best we should live our lives:
- Examine your life: Socrates believed that an unexamined life is not worth living. Also, living your life without pausing to reflect or ponder on its peculiarities is not healthy. According to him, the person who continuously repeats the cycle of waking up, going to work, and going back to sleep is an unfortunate individual. Furthermore, when you live without questioning or reflecting on your beliefs, actions, values, and behaviors, it can lead you to spend time on activities that may not be beneficial to you. However, when you choose to examine your life with reason, it brings you in contact with a constant supply of knowledge and virtues. Therefore, Socrates implored his followers to explore the concepts of their lives, examine their principles, and try to learn a new thing every day.
- Master yourself: Another view of Socrates on the best way to live is to attain self-mastery. Socrates illustrated this point by using a charioteer directing two horses. According to him, every individual is like that charioteer and we are all given two horses to handle in the journey of life. The first horse is stubborn and it represents our animalistic desires to pursue pleasure and lust without any restraint. The second horse, which is gentle and sensible, represents our reasoning.
If you as a charioteer ever want to live your life in the best way, you have to control the stubborn horse and its desires. When you fail to do so, it will leave you with wild and uncontrolled passions and desires that could destroy you. Thus, Socrates advices that the second horse should always be the one at the driving seat of our lives. He concludes that it is only by controlling your passions that you can fully master yourself.
- Live simply: Most people believe that amassing wealth, material things, or fame is an attribute of the good life. To Socrates, this ideology is fundamentally wrong. He believed that a life spent chasing after material things is a life that is not worth living. According to him, you do not need to constantly have new things to get the best out of life. Rather, the capability to derive happiness from the things you already have and living simply is an essential part of the good life.
- Give help to others: Socrates was passionate about changing society for the better. He urged his followers to render assistance wherever and whenever they can. According to him, we can enjoy life if we commit our lives to a cause greater than ourselves. He was against the idea of only living for yourself and desires. He declared that such a selfish life can never be meaningful and useful.
- Desist from worry: In his study of human issues, Socrates observed that life has two parts. The first part can be changed or influenced while the second part cannot be changed as they are beyond human control. Sadly, for most people, the inability to influence or change this second aspect results in feelings of helplessness, intimidation, and even fear. Therefore, he advised that even though we have no control over that part of our life, we can still control our reactions to them. In other words, there is no sense in worrying over events that are out of your hands.
- Enjoy the moments: Socrates observed that most people go through life without stopping to appreciate the little things. He saw this as a sad way to live and also wondered why an individual would neglect to enjoy the present moments in his life. In addition, he claimed that living in the moments of life without being haunted by memories of the past or fear of the future is one of the ways we should live our lives. According to him, even if the past is filled with terrible events nothing can be done to change it. He encouraged his followers who had a fear of the future to stop dwelling on the fear. Instead, they should take actions now that can positively impact the future.
- Nurture relationships: Socrates recognized the value of healthy relationships in an individual’s life. He saw relationships as vital and an aspect of life cannot be bought with money or social status. However, he could not understand people who go through life alone without having anyone around to share in their experiences. Thus, he stated that when you nurture relationships and friendships, you contribute to the joys and pleasant experiences of life. Therefore, if you are desirous of knowing the best way to live your life, you should spend time with your loved ones developing each other and growing strong together.
We have looked at the opinion of Socrates on how best we can live our lives. To Socrates, this includes examining ourselves, attaining self-mastery, rendering assistance to others, abstaining from worry, living simply, enjoying life’s moments, and nurturing our relationships.
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