Perhaps the most common objection to the Socratic way of life is that its lengthy, extensive, time-consuming examination takes up all the time a person might otherwise spend going out into the world and “living.” Critics would say that Socrates isn’t having a life – his uncertainty prevents him from having any firm beliefs (except one) which in turn prevent him from acting in any meaningful way. In this way, it may be said that the Socratic life is forever competing with the “reality” of daily life in the eyes of all possible philosophers.
Of all these potential philosophers, would Socrates have wanted everyone to live as he did? There’s no evidence to suggest the man ever did anything that produced (in the economic sense). If everyone lived like him, what would they eat? In what buildings would they sleep? In what armour would they defend themselves from the Persians? (and then the Spartans) Suffice it to say that if everyone lived the Socratic life, the world wouldn’t work at all like it does now, or as it did in 5th BCE Athens. How can we defend Socrates?
My reply is one concerned with value, and the standards we use to measure them. Socrates was concerned with the truth, and he compared everything to the truth using. since he didn’t have the truth itself, reason. His value was truth and his standard was reason. What by what standard is “real life” held? Perhaps a certain consequentialism, or an evolutionary rational. It may be any number of things, but it isn’t reason.
What happens when our standard of value isn’t reason – when it is one of those ‘any number of things?’ The lack of reason as a standard of value is the cause of excessive subjectivism; the phenomenon where people think more things are a matter of subjectivity than actually are. It is the loss of objectivity in general, which means a loss of common ground, and more importantly, or Socrates’ beloved and infallible truth. In any life except the Socratic life, not everything is held up to the magnifying glass, or the standard, of reason. In any life, except the Socratic life, objective truths are not being found, because the magnifying class is not being used, things are left in a state of subjective flux, neither one thing neither another. It’s life avoiding an examination of a platypus to determine what it is and settling for “either a duck or a beaver.” Those who opt for “real life” over a prolonged examination are in fact choosing an indecisive mush of subjectivity; there’s nothing real about it to me. In fact, I would argue that reality is only actually found when one takes the time to define and distinguish things. Reality is the world of truth, it’s about what is actually there, not what looks like is there. Do you have a grasp on reality if you think a platypus is a duck? Or is it okay not to know the difference because you had to do something practical, like take out the garbage or buy groceries?
The Socratic life is not in conflict with “real life”, it is in conflict with the standard of value of those who claim that philosophical examination disrupts “real life.” Socrates life is, in reality (excuse the pun), the only way to find “real life” or reality.