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Ancient Philosophy: Being, Being Alive, and Living Well

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Ancient Philosophy: Being, Being Alive, and Living Well
Phil 20438

Instructor: David Squires
Office and Hours: M 12:00pm-3:00pm or by appointment, Malloy 109

Every more thorough thinker, every more earnest artist, still regenerates himself in the eternal youth of the Greeks.” – Søren Kierkegaard, Fear and Trembling

Course Description

This course surveys a number of authors and topics in ancient Greek philosophy.  Our main focus will be on Plato and Aristotle, perhaps the two most influential philosophers in the history of western philosophy.  We will also pay close attention to a number of their pre-Socratic predecessors in an effort to retrieve some of the philosophical culture of Plato’s and Aristotle’s time, a culture that was engaged and criticized by these two philosophical luminaries in the process of creating their own philosophical revolutions.  This course consists of three units, the earlier portions of which are designed to give the student important information about ancient philosophical thought that will make the reading of subsequent material easier and more profitable.  We begin by investigating questions of being and becoming in pre-Socratic and Aristotelian philosophy.  From there we will be in a good place to investigate two other topics with which the Greeks were most enchanted, the soul, and the good for the individual and the state.  The course aims to help students see the nature of the problems that made the philosophical revolutions of Plato and Aristotle a reality and then to explore what it means to be, to be alive, and to live well according to Plato and Aristotle.

Required Texts

The Presocratic Philosophers, Second Edition.  G.S. Kirk, J.E Raven, and M. Schofield, Cambridge University Press: Cambridge, 2007.

Plato: Complete Works.  Edited, with Introduction and Notes, by John M. Cooper, Hackett Publishing Company, Inc.: Indianapolis, 1997.

The Complete Works of Aristotle: The Revised Oxford Translation, Volume One.  Edited by Jonathan Barnes, Princeton University Press: Princeton, 1995.

Various other materials will be handed out via email—indicated below with an *

Assignments and Academic Policies

Assignments: there will be three paper assignments over the course of the semester, either 2½ or 5 pages in length (I’ll specify at the time).  The papers are weighted equally (at 25% each).  Papers are graded for substance (understanding the prompt, answering the prompt, producing good arguments, etc.), as well as for the quality of writing (grammar, usage, organization, style, etc.).  For the sake of fairness, do not exceed the length limit. You should not need to make use of outside sources.  Papers are due at the beginning of class, in hard copy, on the Wednesday of the week that they are due.  Late papers will be penalized.

Participation: participation accounts for 25% of your grade.  Attendance is an essential part of participation!  Only university required absences will be excused—i.e. those described in this policy:  A good participation score is in store for anyone who attends class and shows a sustained pattern of thoughtful contribution and questioning in class, especially if that contribution demonstrates that you have read the assigned material diligently.  Assignments in philosophy often do not require much reading, but they always require careful reading.  I will often assign you very little material (i.e. less than 20 pages); show me that you have read that small amount of material carefully and you will do well.  I may sometimes (perhaps even frequently) ask the class to come to lecture with a question or two about the reading written down.  Revealing these questions to the class and your thoughts about possible answers to them will go toward your participation grade and will be graded on a credit/no credit basis.

“The Chain”: The Chain is a string of emails that I’ll send you throughout the semester (chained together so as not to gum up your inbox—hence the name).  Each email in The Chain will have three parts—1) the Afterthought: a brief summary of the latest reading, which should be very handy when it comes time to review ideas before writing a paper, 2) the Forethought: a few guiding comments or questions for the next reading, and 3) a Funny Thought: a place for me to post philosophical memes, videos, articles, and, in all likelihood, pictures of my cat, Alice. If there are readings to be handed out, they will be attached to The Chain.   Reading/viewing the Chain is entirely optional, but reading the attached assignments is not optional. If you find yourself struggling with the readings, consider at least reading the Forethought. Additionally, asking questions about the readings or commenting intelligently on them by replying to the Chain will increase your discussion participation score.

Summary: Papers count for 75% of your grade, participation 25%. Rubric: A: 93%, A-: 90%, B+: 87%, B: 83%, B-: 80%, C+: 77%, C: 73%, C-: 70%, D+: 67%, D: 63%, D-: 60%

Disabilities: The university’s policies regarding disabilities can be found at: Information concerning Sara Bea Disability Services can be found at:

Academic Integrity: Don’t Cheat! This includes plagiarism of any variety, including having others do your work for you or merely syntactically or terminologically altering the work of others (e.g. plugging in a few different words into a paragraph written by someone else).  Any instances of cheating discovered will be dealt with swiftly according to university policy.

Laptop and Mobile Device Policy: Laptops and Mobile devices should not be used during class.  The results are in: scientific studies show that screens mean less glean.  Science giveth the iPhone X Plus and science taketh it away!


Unit 1: The Principles of Being and Becoming

And indeed the question that was raised long ago, and now, and always, and which always baffles us is this: what is being?  And this just is the question: What is substance?  For it is this that some say is one and others more than one, and some say is limited and others unlimited.” – Aristotle, Metaphysics

Week 1: Intro
Class 1 (8/26): Introduction to Ancient Philosophy

Week 2: The One In Motion; The One Unmoving
Class 2 (8/31): The Milesians: Thales, Anaximander, Anaximenes; Fragments and Testimonies*
Class 3 (9/2): Parmenides: Fragments and Testimonies

Week 3: Everything In Everything; The Many In Motion
Class 4 (9/7) Anaxagoras: Fragments and Testimonies
Class 5 (9/9) Leucippus and Democritus: Fragments and Testimonies

Week 4: The Categories of Being; Aristotelian Criticism of Predecessors
Class 6 (9/14) Aristotle: Categories Chapters 1-8
Class 7 (9/16) Aristotle: Physics Book 1, Chapters 1-4

Week 5: Motion Explained; Nature and the Four Causes
Class 8 (9/21) Aristotle: Physics Book 1, Chapters 5-9
Class 9 (9/23) Aristotle: Physics Book 2, Chapters 1-3, G.E.M Anscombe: “Causality and Determination” *
First Paper Due (9/23)

Unit 2: The Soul

To describe what the soul actually is would require a very long account, altogether a task for a god in every way; but what it is like, it is possible for a human being to say.” – Plato, Phaedrus

Week 6: Chance and the Telos of Nature; Immortality of the Soul
Class 10 (9/28) Aristotle: Physics Book 2, Chapters 4-9
Class 11 (9/30) Plato: Phaedo: 57a-77a

Week 7: Immortality Cont.; Socrates’s Death
Class 12 (10/5) Plato: Phaedo: 77a-95a
Class 13 (10/7) Plato: Phaedo 95a-118a

Week 8: The Predecessors’ Accounts of the Soul; Aristotle’s Hylomorphic Account of the Soul
Class 14 (10/12) Aristotle: De Anima Book 1
Class 15 (10/14) Aristotle: De Anima Book 2
Fall Break

Unit 3: The Good; For Human Beings, For the City

Every soul pursues the good and does whatever it does for its sake.  It divines that the good is something, but it is perplexed and cannot adequately grasp what it is or acquire the sort of stable beliefs it has about other things, and so it misses the benefit, if any, that even those other things may give.” – Plato, Republic

Week 9: Justice Is the Advantage of the Stronger?; A City in Words
Class 16 (10/26) Plato: Republic Book 1
Class 17 (10/28) Plato: Republic Book 2

Week 10: Music, Poetry, Gymnastic; Virtues of the City and the Soul
Class 18 (11/2) Plato: Republic Book 3
Class 19 (11/4) Plato: Republic Book 4
Second Paper Due (11/14)

Week 11: Male and Female, Philosophers As Kings; Philosophers As Cranks
Class 20 (11/9) Plato: Republic Book 5
Class 21 (11/11) Plato: Republic Book 6

Week 12: The Divided Line, The Cave, the Good Beyond Being; The Good and Eudaimonia
Class 22 (11/16) Plato: Republic Book 7
Class 23 (11/18) Aristotle: Nicomachean Ethics Book 1 *

Week 13: Virtue is a Mean
Class 24 (11/23) Aristotle: Nicomachean Ethics Book 2 *
Thanksgiving Break

Week 14: The Voluntary, Deliberation, and Choice; Phronesis
Class 25 (11/30) Aristotle: Nicomachean Ethics Book 3 *
Class 26 (12/2) Aristotle: Nicomachean Ethics Book 6 *

Week 15: Continence and Incontinence, Pleasure and Pain; The Contemplative Life
Class 27 (12/7) Aristotle: Nicomachean Ethics Book 7 *
Class 28 (12/9) Aristotle; Nicomachean Ethics Book 10 *
Third Paper Due (Date of Final)