The Examined Life: Philosophical Meditations
"The activities of a life are infused by examination, not just affected by it, and their character is different when permeated by the results of concentrated reflection." - Robert Nozick, The Examined Life, p 14.
Of all of Robert Nozick's books that I have read this is the one to which I return most frequently. He displays a depth of thought, references to other thinkers, and a prose style which I find inviting. That is I am spurred to think about how and why I agree or disagree with the author, but more importantly find the process of reading him a catalyst for my own thinking.
Happiness is just one of the subjects essayed in this book but it is a good example as when you encounter Nozick saying:
"And although it might be best of all to be Socrates satisfied, having both happiness and depth, we would give up some happiness in order to gain the depth."(p 102) And I would add parenthetically, of an examined life. The breadth of the book is astounding, from death to love to meaning and value in life, and more. The discussion of "great spiritual teachers" in the essay "Giving Everything Its Due"(p 253-266) is a good example of thinking beyond the typical teacher as example by contrasting the value of leading a comparatively more "balanced life" as compared to the singularity of the great teachers. I continue to find further stimulus to thought, just as in other great books, when I return to this collection of imaginative and analytical essays that both explore and examine of what it means to aspire to live a humane life.
He discusses the view of Socrates that the examined life is not worth living in the introduction and concludes:
"I do not say with Socrates that the unexamined life is not worth living--that is unnecessarily harsh. However, when we guide our lives by our own pondered thoughts, it is then our life that we are living, not someone else's. In this sense, the unexamined life is not lived as fully."(p 15)
The Examined Life by Robert Nozick. Simon and Schuster, 1989.