[Philosophy: A Guide to Happiness] – Part 1: Socrates on Self-Confidence

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Summary:

The unexamined life is not worth living.

Part 1 of this documentary talks about how and why people should be more confident in their beliefs and statements, even when he or she is part of the minority. The theme is that we should try to transition from being a sheep to a person who is willing to think logically.

Sparknotes:

  • Thinking logically about our lives helps us be more certain about ourselves, more independent, less conformist, and less hamstrung by what other people think.
  • We should find ways to build confidence in our own beliefs and not be too swayed by the opinions of others.
  • Like sheep, we often have the urge to follow our fellow creatures passively, and have a fear of breaking away from the group. The reason behind both the urge and the fear is that we imagine people in authority must know what they’re talking about.
  • We should challenge lazy assumptions more, and think logically rather than being struck dumb by auras of importance.
    • Socrates would spend all day asking people difficult questions such as “Why are you living the kind of life you’re living?” or “What do you think justice is?”
    • From those with higher authority, he would surprisingly find inadequacies such as wealthy people not being able to explain why they were wealthy, or military generals not being able to explain why they fought battles a certain way.
  • Socrates believed everyone, regardless of their education or background in philosophy, has the duty to scrutinize and reflect on their life, and is surprisingly capable of doing so. We just need to overcome laziness and timidity to be able to work out what we really think, and stand by it once we have the answer.
  • Socrates offers a rigorous test to develop beliefs of our own. He believes this is the only way to make trustworthy statements truly worth standing up for. The process also makes us far less passive and less inclined to follow other sheep.
    1. Come up with a statement, or use one that seems common sense. Example: The best jobs are those that offer high salaries. Happiness comes from being married.
    2. Try to find an exception to the statement. If you find one, then your statement must be false or at the very least imprecise.
    3. Try to modify the initial statement to take the exception into account. Example: The best jobs are those that offer high salaries and are creatively fulfilling. Happiness comes from being married to the right person.
    4. Repeat the steps until you come up with an impossible to disprove statement.
  • There are a lot of imprecise ideas out there because people think you can come up with a good idea without really thinking too hard about it.
  • Socrates believed though we all have the capacity to think logically, most people don’t, and therefore not all opinions are equally worth listening to.
  • To him, it was important that decisions were made because they were logical, rather than because the majority of the people agreed on it.

Action Items

  1. Take a moment to reflect on beliefs you’ve accepted as truth from authority. See if they pass Socrates’ tests.
  2. Scrutinize and reflect on your life. Why are you living the life you’re living? Why do you believe the things you believe?
  3. Be more inclined to think logically for yourself, and less inclined to blindly follow others, even those with authority. Understand that not all opinions are worth listening to.

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