May 7, 2018
On the Relation Between the Health of the Soul and Human Happiness
Prior to Socrates, philosophy among the Greeks, as seen by the writings of the Presocratics, was interested predominantly in inquiring about the nature of being. Questions such as those concerning the substance that makes up the composition of the world or the nature of reality were commonplace throughout their writings. Socrates, on the other hand, stands in sharp contrast to this, with his emphasis on the ethical, as opposed to the purely metaphysical aspect of philosophy. His famous saying, “The unexamined life is not worth living,” is the culmination of his emphatic conviction that philosophy as a way of life is essential for a worthwhile, meaningful existence. It is a call to serious reflection concerning, earnest investigation into, and thoughtful contemplation upon those things which contribute to a happy and meaningful life, in order that one might live in accordance therewith. For no subject is more important to understand, and no mistakes are more costly, than with regard as to how best to live. Although what these things are might be thought of as being obvious if most people are observed, a meaningful life is not to be found in the objects of the common pursuit. If, however, it is not in these things, wherein do the things which contribute to such a life consist? According to Socrates, the good life is founded upon the serious pursuit of wisdom attended with earnest cultivation of the virtues of the soul, without which, people will always be miserable.
Although much difference exists between Socrates’ day and ours today, there are certain things that never have and likely never will change. Perhaps nowhere is this more true than when one observes the way that the average citizen chooses to live their life. What Socrates observed—as is still true today—was that people expressed significant concern toward their body, their wealth, their reputation, their political prowess, and their comfort, and comparatively little concern regarding their soul, if any at all. It is said, that not long before Socrates was condemned to death, he remarked that “Nothing can harm a good man in this life or the next” (Bertman 136). On what basis could Socrates say this, however, when he would shortly be executed thereafter? According to Socrates, physical pain and execution should be thought of more as accidents that occur to a person, because they are external to their own choices. On the other hand, “Bad choices alone mutilate the soul and that is what it is to be essentially harmed” (Bertman 137). The soul and the body are not equal; soul takes primacy over body, and this means that people should not think of bodily or material issues until they have first given thought about their souls.
This raises the inevitable question, however: Why is this the case? And why is a healthy soul necessary to welfare and not merely a healthy body? Is it because the...