Sunday, August 26, 2012


“The unexamined life is not worth living.” —Socrates

(for my students in Personal Writing)

Socrates’ words above have long been a motto for philosophers, those “lovers of wisdom” who feel summoned to ponder human experience and to make sense of and find meaning in what would otherwise remain baffling and daunting.

Human beings—given our marvelous brains and the languages we have devised to represent our experiences, to process them and to communicate our comprehension to others—we can do what no other species can accomplish.  We can examine not only the world and each other, but ourselves: physically, socially, mentally, and spiritually.

An implicit motive in our Personal Writing course is that you will take the opportunity of addressing one or more of your essays to the challenge of examining aspects of human experience intriguing to you, with the hope of “wising up” through your efforts to articulate a more considered and cogent understanding.

In your first essay, “Me10”, and in your final essay, “The Good Life According to Me,” you will quite directly be examining your own life, both your personality and your prospects.  Likewise, when you later reflect on the indications resulting from your Myers-Briggs Type indicator (MBTI) test, which you’ll take during the term, you’ll examine the distinctive proclivities of your personality.

Personal essays as a genre, however, include many more motives than self-scrutiny, and thus you will write about much more than yourself.  Personal essays are personal chiefly because they permit you to show whatever topic you select from your own viewpoint: subjectively, rather than objectively represented.

Of this, I think Socrates would approve, because you will be using language to express clearer understandings of what cannot be grasped and examined well until composed in prose.