The Examined Life

I watched this documentary about living an ‘examined life’ (the movie, if you couldn’t tell from the above poster, is titled “Examined Life”). (note also: the ‘doc’ is more like a collection of short monologues by various philosophers). The title comes from Plato’s Apology, wherein he is quoting Socrates during his trial (for corrupting the youth of Athens):

Perhaps someone might say, “Socrates, can you not go away from us and live quietly, without talking?” Now this is hte hardest thing to make some of you believe. For if I say that such conduct would be disobedience to the god and that therefore I cannot keep quiet, you will think I am jesting and will not believe me; and if again I say taht to talk every day about virtue and the other things about which you hear me talking and examining myself and others is the greatest good to man, and that the unexamined life is not worth living, you will believe me still less. This is as I say, gentlemen, but it is not easy to convince you. – Apology, 38A

The philosophers who ‘star’ in the film are as follows:

  • Cornel West: known for his combination of political and moral insight and criticism and his contribution to the post-1960s civil rights movement. The bulk of his work focuses on the role of race, gender, and class in American society and the means by which people act and react to their “radical conditionedness.” West draws intellectual contributions from such diverse traditions as the African American Baptist Churchpragmatism and transcendentalism.
  • Avital Ronell: major works include The Telephone BookCrack Wars and Test Drive. The author’s deconstructive approach (wherein close reading of texts unveil hidden power structures) is informed by Derrida, who was a close friend of Ronell’s.
  • Peter Singer: specializes in applied ethics and approaches ethical issues from a secularpreference utilitarian perspective.
  • Kwame Anthony Appiah: a Ghanaian philosopher, cultural theorist, and novelist whose interests include political and moral theory, the philosophy of language and mind, and African intellectual history.
  • Martha Nussbaum: an American philosopher with a particular interest in ancient Greek and Roman philosophy, political philosophy and ethics. Has collaborated with Amartya Sen on issues of development and ethics, together promoting the “capabilities approach” to development, which views capabilities (“substantial freedoms”, such as the ability to live to old age, engage in economic transactions, or participate in political activities) as the constitutive parts of development, and poverty as capability-deprivation.
  • Michael Hardt: an American literary theorist and political philosopher perhaps best known for Empire, written with Antonio Negri and published in 2000. It has been called the Communist Manifesto of the 21st Century.
  • Slavoj Žižek: a Slovenian continental philosopher and critical theorist working in the traditions of HegelianismMarxism and Lacanian psychoanalysis. He has made contributions to political theory, film theory, and theoretical psychoanalysis.
  • Judith Butler: an American post-structuralist philosopher, who has contributed to the fields of feminismqueer theory, political philosophy, and ethics.

This film really does suck as a piece of philosophy, since the amount of time that these philosophers get to talk is roughly 10 minutes, not nearly enough to fully describe their thoughts and reasoning. However, it is still nice to see a movie that highlights some of the 21st century’s great intellectual thinkers.

Here’s my summary (from what I remember):
I don’t really remember liking what Cornel West was saying…he seems cool and all, but I just wasn’t getting any of it.
Same with Avital Rotell: that person was spouting a whole-bunch of nonsense as far as I could tell. She did talk about Heidegger though (begin funny clip):

Next was Peter Singer, who most of you probably know by now that I’m positively in love with. He talks about affluence and poverty, and how people who are well off should really consider where their money is going. I wrote about how this line of argument convinced me to start donating a percentage of my income to a charity (1% for now). He also talks about vegetarianism, applied ethics and Socrates.
Kwame Anthony Appiah talks about cosmopolitanism, or about how we (the world) are all to live together: different cultures should be respected not because cultures matter in themselves, but because people matter, and culture matters to people.
Nussbaum talks about Aristotle and theories of justice, the social contract approach tradition, leading her to talk about her capabilities approach.
Michael Hardt discusses revolutionary change in America and democracy (“you can only learn democracy by doing it”, “instigating Utopia every day”)
Slavoj spouts a bunch of nonsense, as far as I can tell. I really don’t get this guy. I find him to just be this ‘exciting’ guy who says ridiculous things, but because he’s saying ridiculous things, people love it. I don’t know. I know some smart people who love this guy…so, I’ll reserve my judgment.
Finally, Judith Butler, who is accompanied by Taylor’s sister Sunny, a disability activist, “take a walk” and discuss what that means, and what it means to be disabled.

Anyways, check it out over at


About dontdontoperate

28 year old originally from Barrie, Ontario, Canada. H.B.Sc. from UofT with a major in chemistry and a double minor in philosophy and math. M.Sc. from UofT in physiology and neuroscience. Finished my Ph.D. in biomedical engineering at McMaster in the fall of 2013.
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