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COURSE NAME: "Ancient Philosophy"
SEMESTER & YEAR: Fall 2019

INSTRUCTOR: Annette Merle Bryson
EMAIL: [email protected]
HOURS: TTH 11:30-12:45 PM

The philosophers of ancient Greece and Rome debated fundamental questions with an imagination, subtlety, and daring that have captured the attention of thoughtful people in every epoch. For example, they considered the nature and origin of the universe, what changes and does not change, as well as what causes change, how perception and reasoning produce knowledge, the relation between the soul and the body, the meaning of justice and beauty, and the nature of the good life. Through a careful reading of selected texts – in the form of dialogues, poems, aphorisms, or treatises – the course will introduce you to the great questions and controversies of ancient philosophy.

In this course, we will explore the ideas of Plato’s predecessors: the so-called Presocratic thinkers as well as Socrates. Throughout we will join these ancient philosophers in asking some of the questions that are still among the most fundamental questions being asked by philosophers: What is? How ought we to live our lives? How can we know? 

The course will begin with an exploration of the Presocratic philosophers—revolutionary thinkers who beginning in the Sixth Century BCE proposed bold ideas about how to make sense of the world and the place of humans in it. They offered accounts of events in nature, not as the result of the actions of angry or satisfied gods and goddesses, but rather as what we might characterize as natural phenomena. They also explored human understanding and the nature of morality, asking how we ought to live our lives and to think of relationships with each other. In their proposals, we find a type of inquiry and type of explanation that blossoms in the philosophy of Socrates, Plato, and Aristotle, and runs through to today. 

In the second part of the course, we will focus on the ideas of Socrates and Plato. With them, we will explore topics including: the nature and limits of our obligations to obey the law; how we can conduct inquiry into goodness or virtue; how to explain the human condition; what sort of life is worth living; moral psychology; and the nature of justice. We will also consider questions about what is, exploring, for instance, Plato’s Theory of Forms but also some of what Socrates and Plato have to say about the natural world. Throughout, we will compare and contrast answers given by Socrates and Plato to those of their predecessors.


By the end of this course, you will have gained: 

·         a deeper understanding of some of the fundamental philosophical problems in ancient Greek philosophy;

·         an enhanced recognition of the connection between the questions philosophers ask today and the questions asked by ancient Greek thinkers;

·         a better understanding of the strengths and shortcomings of various approaches to answering these questions;

·         an enhanced ability to engage with historical texts in a philosophically rigorous way;

·         a refinement of your own critical reasoning and argumentative skills;

·         a refinement of your capacities to recognize and assess philosophical arguments;

·         a refinement of your abilities to critic, defend, and express philosophical positions in a clear, well-reasoning way through both writing and conversation;

·         the (re)discovery of the joy of philosophical inquiry in dialogue with the ancient Greeks!

Book TitleAuthorPublisherISBN numberLibrary Call NumberComments
Five Dialogues: Euthyphro, Apology, Crito, Meno, PhaedoPlatoHackett978-0872206335  
Philosophy Before SocratesRichard D. McKirahanHackett Publishing Co.1603841822  

Book TitleAuthorPublisherISBN numberLibrary Call NumberComments
Early Greek PhilosophyJonathan BarnesPenguin Books978-0140448153  
PapersYou will be expected to write two short papers over the course of the term. Details about the papers will be provided in class. (One paper will be worth 15% of your grade and the other 20% of your final grade. Paper grade total: 35%.)35%
Reflection Statement You will be expected to bring to our final class section a short reflection statement (400-600 words). I will explain more toward the end of the term. (The reflection statement will be worth 5% of your final grade.) 5%
Final Exam There will be a final examination for this course. Any material discussed in readings or in class during the semester is eligible to appear on the exam. (The final exam will count for 25% of your final grade.)25%
Class Participation You will receive a participation grade at the end of the semester reflecting your preparedness, contribution to in-class discussion, and participation in smaller group activities. (This grade will be 15% of your final grade.)15%
Quizzes Our time together in class will be more rewarding for all if everyone does the reading before class. You will be expected to take some quizzes on the assigned material. (This grade will be 20% of your final grade.)20%

AWork of this quality directly addresses the question or problem raised and provides a coherent argument displaying an extensive knowledge of relevant information or content. This type of work demonstrates the ability to critically evaluate concepts and theory and has an element of novelty and originality. There is clear evidence of a significant amount of reading beyond that required for the course.
BThis is highly competent level of performance and directly addresses the question or problem raised.There is a demonstration of some ability to critically evaluatetheory and concepts and relate them to practice. Discussions reflect the student’s own arguments and are not simply a repetition of standard lecture andreference material. The work does not suffer from any major errors or omissions and provides evidence of reading beyond the required assignments.
CThis is an acceptable level of performance and provides answers that are clear but limited, reflecting the information offered in the lectures and reference readings.
DThis level of performances demonstrates that the student lacks a coherent grasp of the material.Important information is omitted and irrelevant points included.In effect, the student has barely done enough to persuade the instructor that s/he should not fail.
FThis work fails to show any knowledge or understanding of the issues raised in the question. Most of the material in the answer is irrelevant.

You cannot make-up a major exam (midterm or final) without the permission of the Dean’s Office. The Dean’s Office will grant such permission only when the absence was caused by a serious impediment, such as a documented illness, hospitalization or death in the immediate family (in which you must attend the funeral) or other situations of similar gravity. Absences due to other meaningful conflicts, such as job interviews, family celebrations, travel difficulties, student misunderstandings or personal convenience, will not be excused. Students who will be absent from a major exam must notify the Dean’s Office prior to that exam. Absences from class due to the observance of a religious holiday will normally be excused. Individual students who will have to miss class to observe a religious holiday should notify the instructor by the end of the Add/Drop period to make prior arrangements for making up any work that will be missed. The final exam period runs until ____________
As stated in the university catalog, any student who commits an act of academic dishonesty will receive a failing grade on the work in which the dishonesty occurred. In addition, acts of academic dishonesty, irrespective of the weight of the assignment, may result in the student receiving a failing grade in the course. Instances of academic dishonesty will be reported to the Dean of Academic Affairs. A student who is reported twice for academic dishonesty is subject to summary dismissal from the University. In such a case, the Academic Council will then make a recommendation to the President, who will make the final decision.
John Cabot University does not discriminate on the basis of disability or handicap. Students with approved accommodations must inform their professors at the beginning of the term. Please see the website for the complete policy.



Note: This syllabus is intended to give the student guidance in what may be covered during the semester and will be followed as closely as possible. However, the professor reserves the right to modify, supplement and make changes as the course needs arise.


Tuesday, 9/3: Introduction to the course, to philosophical arguments, and to each other


Thursday, 9/5: Greek thought in the Sixth Century BCE



Tuesday, 9/10: The basis of the natural world and the inner workings of nature; sharply new conception of the gods: The Milesians - Thales

Required Reading: Ch. 1 "The Sources of Early Greek Philosophy," Ch. 2 "Hesiod and the Beginnings of Greek Philosophy and Science," and Ch. 3 “Miletus in the Sixth Century: The Cultural Setting for the Beginnings of Philosophy” and Ch. 4 “Thales of Miletus” (in Philosophy Before Socrates). 

Thursday, 9/12: The Milesians, continued - Anaximander & Anaximenes 

Required Reading: Ch. 5, “Anaximander of Miletus” (in Philosophy Before Socrates)
Optional Reading: Ch. 6, “Anaximenes of Miletus” (in Philosophy Before Socrates)


Tuesday, 9/17: The nature of human understanding; conception of the gods; ideas that would later contribute to Plato’s Theory of Forms: Xenophanes

Required Reading: Ch. 7, Xenophanes of Colophon (in Philosophy Before Socrates)

Thursday, 9/19: All things change, always: the doctrine of flux; the concept of universal law: Heraclitus of Ephesus

Required Reading: Ch. 10, “Heraclitus of Ephesus” (in Philosophy Before Socrates)

Friday, 9/20: Heraclitus, continued

Thanksgiving make-up day    

Required Reading: [To be announced]


Tuesday, 9/24: Using the John Cabot University library services

Required Reading: None

Thursday, 9/26: A rejection of the possibility of change; a rejection of natural philosophy (incl. contra-Milesians): Parmenides of Elea 

Required Reading: Ch.11, “Parmenides of Elea” (in Philosophy Before Socrates) 


Tuesday, 10/1: The nature and constitution of the world; A rejection of the possibility of change (incl. contra-Heraclitus); Responses to Parmenides: Anaxagoras of Clazomenae & Empedocles of Acragas

Required Reading: Ch. 13 “Anaxagoras of Clazomenae” and Ch.14 “Empedocles of Acragas” (in Philosophy Before Socrates)

Thursday, 10/3: Discussion of how to write a philosophy paper; discussion of paper topics


Tuesday, 10/8: Against the possibility of change and an illustration of the power of logic: Zeno of Elea 

Required Reading: Ch. 12, Zeno of Elea (in Philosophy Before Socrates)

Thursday, 10/10: Mathematics and the world, the immortality of the soul: Pythagoras of Samos and the Pythagoreans

Required Reading: Ch. 9 “Pythagoras of Samos and the Pythagoreans” (in Philosophy Before Socrates)

First writing assignment topics distributed


Tuesday, 10/15: Presentations

Thursday 10/17:  Presentations       



Tuesday, 10/22: Overview of Pre-Socratic thoughts on the status of morality and its underlying character: Various Pre-Socratics (including Pythagoras, Parmenides, Empodocles, Hercletus)  

Required Reading: [To be announced]                   

Thursday, 10/24: Overview of Pre-Socratic thoughts on the status of morality and its underlying character: Various Pre-Socratics (including Pythagoras, Parmenides, Empodocles, Hercletus) 

Required Reading: [To be announced]

First writing assignment due 


WEEK 9    

Tuesday, 10/29: The wisdom of Socrates; a focus on ethics: Plato/Socrates

Required Reading: Plato, Apology (in Five Dialogues)

Thursday, 10/31:   

Required Reading: [To be announced]

WEEK 10    

Tuesday, 11/5: Definition and Elenchus: Plato/Socrates

Required Reading: Plato, Euthyphro (in Five Dialogues)

Thursday, 11/7: The Euthyphro Problem

Required Reading: The Euthyphro, continued

WEEK 11    

Tuesday, 11/12: What is the nature of our obligation to obey the law? Are there limits to this obligation? Plato/Socrates

Required Reading: Plato, Crito (in Five Dialogues)

Thursday, 11/14: What is virtue? Can it be taught? Plato/Socrates

Required Reading: Plato, Meno (in Five Dialogues)

WEEK 12    

Tuesday, 11/19: Socrates’ critique of Anaxagoras (Pre-Socratic thinker): Plato/Socrates

Required Reading: Plato, Phaedo (in Five Dialogues)

Thursday, 11/21: Required Reading: [To be announced]

WEEK 13    

Tuesday, 11/26: The theory of forms: Plato/Socrates

Required Reading: Plato, Phaedo (in Five Dialogues)

Second writing assignment topics distributed 

Final exam topics distributed

NO CLASS on Thursday, 11/28 (Thanksgiving)  

 WEEK 14    

Tuesday, 12/3: Discussion of paper topics and final exam review

Thursday, 12/5:  Wrapping Up

 Presentation of Reflection Papers: Bring reflection paper to class!