Alderman Stacks

EGMT 1540: The Examined Life

The unexamined life is not worth living. At least, that is what Socrates thought. According to Plato, Socrates uttered these words while defending his practice of philosophy as self examination during the trial that would cost him his life. It’s a bold claim to make when thestakes are high. Was Socrates right? In this course, we’ll explore self examination as an ethical practice. We’ll dive into questions such as: what does it mean to examine and thereby know ourselves when we are beings who live in flux? What is the role of honesty in the act of self-knowledge? What do we do when we examine ourselves and don’t like what we find? Is the truth always good, and are lies always bad? What is the role of self-knowledge in ethical behavior and decision-making? Do we even have a self that we can know? Does self examination really make life better, or in Socrates’ terms, more worth living, and how? 

We will approach these questions by exploring different approaches and representations from fields in the arts and social sciences. We will begin with how ancient Greek thinkers theorized and dramatized the ethical vocation of self-knowledge. While Plato represents Socrates as the paragon of the ethical life through his commitment to self examination, the pursuit of truth, and to the communal pursuit of better thinking, the poet Sophocles staged a gripping drama of self-discovery and the disastrous consequences of self-deception in his play Oedipus Rex. We’ll turn to the field of psychology to examine the limits of introspection. Finally, we’ll explore themindfulness movement and how awareness of the present moment is represented as awareness of the self.

This course is as much an exploration of thehistory of self examination as it is a practicum in self examination. Accordingly, we will engage in practices of self-knowledge, including journaling and reflective writing, mindfulness meditation, and dialogue. Throughout this course, we will explore our relationship with digital media as a test case for practicing self examination. Much research connects the use of digital media to problems with mental health and other forms of suffering. Acting on the premise that it is worth knowing whether this is true of ourselves, will explore the ethical implications of various dimensions of our digital media use. We will engage in a digital detox, or a break from all digital media, which students will process in writing and in dialogue with a small group of classmates. For our final project, students will work with their groups to co-author their best practices for using digital media and their ethical justifications of their best practices. These best practices should incorporate and further practices of self-knowledge.