Hist. Of Philosophy, Ancient 20/FA-PHIL-208-01

Hist. Of Philosophy, Ancient 20/FA-PHIL-208-01

Plato's Academy.  Mosaic (detail), First Century C.E., Pompeii  (National Archeological Museum, Naples).

Course Description

This course provides an introduction to  philosophy in the Mediterranean world from classical Greece to the Medieval period.  The first two units of the course are devoted to the two foremost philosophers of classical Greece, Plato (428?-327? B.C.E.) and Aristotle (384-322 B.C.E.).  We then turn to two very different philosophical writers of Latin antiquity, the Epicurean poet Lucretius (99?-55? B.C.E.) and the North African Christian bishop Augustine of Hippo (354-430 C.E.).  In our final unit we will read selections from the works of two representative thinkers of the High Middle Ages:  Abu Bakr Ibn Tufayl (1105-1185 C.E.),  and Thomas Aquinas (1225-1274 C.E.).

We will focus primarily on these philosophers’ approach to questions of human flourishing (ethics) and corruption (evil), in light of their respective conceptions of the human knowledge, the constitution of nature, and humanity’s place in the cosmos. 

Opening lines of Plato's Apology of Socrates, from a manuscript  copy of Plato's works that was produced in 895 C.E. in Cappadocia (a region in present-day Turkey).  This manuscript, known now as the Clarke Codicil, is the earliest surviving source text for many of Plato's works  (Bodleian Library, Oxford).

Course Organization and Requirements


Synchronous Seminar Sessions:

The course will meet weekly (via Zoom) on  Wednesday at 2 pm (Eastern Time).  (Please note that there will be no course meeting on Wednesday, Nov. 4.)  These seminar sessions will typically run approximately 60 to 90 minutes.   (Students who are unable to participate at that hour due to local time-zone differences  will also have the opportunity to meet with the instructor during specially-scheduled video conferences to be held at alternative times.)


Asynchronous Teaching Components:

In tandem with the seminar sessions, the course instructor will post recorded audio lectures, providing introductory overviews and historical context for the works covered in each module.   Asynchronous discussion will also be conducted via the Canvas Discussions platform.  Students will typically be assigned to contribute one or more posts in response to each module's discussion prompts, along with responses to classmates' posts.  We will also be using the Chat platform for more informal, ongoing conversation about the course materials.


Typical Weekly Schedule (tentative):

Tuesday: Short  exercise/quiz on assigned reading & posted audio lecture

Wednesday:  Seminar session

Thursday & Friday:   Discussion posts


 Formal Written Work:

Students write three essays for the course, of 4-6 pages each.



Course Grades will be assessed on the following basis:

    1.  Attendance & Participation in Synchronous Sessions: 5%
    2.  Quizzes: 10%
    3.  Asynchronous Discussion Contributions (weekly): 25%
    4.  Essays 60% (20% each)

Office Hours:

Office hours will be held on  Mondays & Thursdays from 12pm to 1pm, via both Course Chat  and Zoom (for individual appointments).  Students are encouraged to  use Course Chat (at these and other times) for matters of potential general interest to the class. 

Detail of page from a seventeenth-century (C.E.) manuscript copy of Abu Nasr Al-Farabi's  commentary on Aristotle's Metaphysics, written in Syria (or possibly Egypt) in the tenth century C.E.    (Bodleian Library, Oxford)

Course Books

The following books have been ordered for student purchase via the Pratt online bookstore:

    • Plato, Five Dialogues: Euthyphro, Apology, Crito, Meno, Phaedo, trans. G.M.A. Grube. Hackett (2002). ISBN 978-0872206335
    • Plato, Republic, trans. G.M.A. Grube, C.D.C. Reeve. Hackett (1992). ISBN 978-0872201361
    • Aristotle, Nicomachean Ethics, trans. T. Irwin. Hackett (2019). ISBN 978-1624668159
    • Lucretius, On the Nature of the Universe, trans. R. Melville. Oxford (2019).  978-0199555147
    • (St.) Augustine, Confessions, trans. H. Chadwick. Oxford (2009). ISBN 978-0199537822
    • Ibn Tufayl, Hayy Ibn Yaqzan, trans. L.E. Goodman. Chicago (2009) ISBN 978-0226303109

 In lieu of the two books of Plato, students may opt to obtain  Plato's Complete Works edited by John M. Cooper (Hackett, 1997; ISBN 978-0872203495); the translations are the same.  (Please consult with the instructor before substituting any other translations of these or other works assigned in the course.) 

Other texts assigned in the course will be made available in digital format.

Detail from fourteenth-century (C.E.) manuscript copy of Thomas Aquinas' Latin commentary on Aristotle's Nicomachean Ethics, written in Paris in 1272 C.E.   (Vatican Library).


UNIT 1: Plato

Plato: Socratic Dialogues

8/31  Euthyphro
          The Apology of Socrates

Plato: The Republic

9/7  Republic, Books  I-III

9/14  Republic, Books IV-VII (through 521b)

9/21  Republic, Books VII (from 521c)-VIII

9/28  Republic, Books IX-X

UNIT 2: Aristotle

Aristotle: Nature and Metaphysics

10/5  Physics, II
             Metaphysics, XII

Aristotle: Ethics

10/12   Nicomachean Ethics, I-III

10/19 Nicomachean Ethics, VI-X

UNIT 3: Philosophers of Roman Antiquity


10/26 On the Nature of the Things, I, III


10/26 Confessions, I-V

11/2 Confessions, VI-IX

11/9 Confessions,  X

Unit 4: Medieval Philosophers

Ibn Tufayl  

11/16 The Story of Hayy Ibn Yaqzan



11/30   Summa Theologiae


Detail from opening page of Plato's Euthyphro in Henri Etienne's landmark Latin/Greek critical edition of Plato's complete works, printed in 1578.


Course Summary:

Date Details