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The Question of the Examined Life

  • Michael Allen Gillespie

Abstract

This essay calls into question Zuckert's claim in Postmodern Platos that Strauss provides the best contemporary defense of the superiority of the philosophic life against the claims of Nietzsche and Heidegger that it leads to nihilism and despair. For her, Strauss persuasively draws on Plato, read through Alfarabi and Maimonides, to defend this view by showing that the philosopher understands the true ends of human life as a whole which is part of the whole, and thus provides a vision of the noblest, best, and most beautiful. I argue that this claim is implausible, that Strauss's Platonic vision of the ends of human life is obscure, and that even if correct, it does not offer an answer to the question of the relative value of these heterogenous ends, and thus does not demonstrate that the philosophic life is more worth living than any other form of life.

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1 Bacon, Francis, The New Organon and Related Writings, ed. Anderson, F. H. (New York: Macmillan, 1960), 122; Descartes, René, The Philosophical Writings of Descartes, vol. 1, trans. Cottingham, John, Stoothoff, Robert, and Murdoch, Dugald (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1985), 117–20.

2 Dostoevsky, Fyodor, The Brothers Karamazov, trans. Garnett, Constance (New York: Modern Library, 1996), 242.

3 Nietzsche, Friedrich, Werke: Kritische Gesamtausgabe, ed. Colli, G. and Montinari, M. (Berlin: De Gruyter, 1967–), VI 2:9; VI 1:266–73.

4 Ibid., VI 1:276.

5 Kuhn, Elisabeth, Friedrich Nietzsches Philosophie des europäischen Nihilismus (Berlin: De Gruyter, 1992), 237.

6 Heidegger, Martin, “Die Frage nach der Technik,” in Vorträge und Aufsätze (Pfullingen: Neske, 1969), 36; Der Spiegel, May 31, 1976, 209.

7 For more on this point, see my essay Nihilism after Nietzsche,” Bollettino Filosofico 30 (2015): 80100.

8 Strauss's argument here seems to me to exaggerate and overgeneralize from the case of Socrates. It seems unlikely that Socrates himself would have been put to death for merely attracting young men to study philosophy, had he not done so by constantly humiliating the leading citizens in the public square or the marketplace with his questioning. His protestations that his motivation for such questioning was a duty imposed upon him by the oracle of Delphi notwithstanding, as far as the practice of philosophy goes, he could have led a more private and less provocative life, more akin to the lives of many of the pre-Socratic philosophers, and to the ultimate life of the retired philosopher king Plato's Socrates describes in the Republic.

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The Review of Politics
  • ISSN: 0034-6705
  • EISSN: 1748-6858
  • URL: /core/journals/review-of-politics
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