PHIL 210.001 – Ancient Greek Philosophy
Instructor: Alex Campbell. This course meets MTWRF 11:30 a.m. – 1:00 p.m. in CW 105.
One of the central topics in ancient Greek philosophy is how we ought to live. It is this question that will be the focus of the course. To help us examine the question and its many facets, we will consider the views of Socrates, Plato, Aristotle, Epicurus, and Epictetus.
We will begin with Plato’s Socratic dialogues, which present the views of Plato’s teacher Socrates. Topics in this section will include: the Socratic method, the nature of piety, the Euthyphro dilemma, the virtue of courage, a puzzle about the unity of the virtues, and our obligations to the state. We then turn to Plato’s transitional dialogues where we will read excerpts from Protagoras and Gorgias. Topics discussed in this section include: the possibility of weakness of the will, the unity of the virtues, whether virtue can be taught, and the role that the virtues play in achieving our goals. Moving on to Plato’s mature thought, we will read portions of the Republic to explore Plato’s moral psychology, his account of justice, and his arguments for why we ought to be just. After concluding our discussion of Plato, we will move on to the work of his student Aristotle. We will read Aristotle’s Nicomachean Ethics, and explore his thoughts on the nature of happiness, the virtues, practical wisdom, friendship, pleasure, theoretical contemplation, and the place that each of these have in the good life. We end by looking at the views of Epicurus in his Letter to Menoeceus and Epictetus in his Enchiridion. Topics in this final section will include: the nature of pleasure and its role in the good life, whether we ought to fear death, how we ought to respond to things outside of our control, and whether virtue is sufficient for happiness.
The aim of the course is to familiarize ourselves with how the major figures in ancient Greek philosophy thought about ethics, and see what, if anything, there is that we can learn from them about how we ought to live our lives today. Along the way, we get practice reading difficult texts and developing arguments to support moral and ethical convictions.