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History of Ancient Greek Philosophy
/ PHIL 201
Very few people believe that everything is water, that we knew everything before birth, that philosophers ought to rule the state, or that some people are natural slaves. Why then should we spend our time studying people who in addition to having these surprising beliefs have been dead for 2500 years? First of all, Greek thinkers, especially Plato and Aristotle, radically shaped the trajectory of western thought in every area of philosophy. No one can have an adequate understanding of western intellectual history without some familiarity with the Greeks, and we might think that an understanding of our intellectual history can deepen our understanding of our own situation. More importantly, many of the thinkers that we will read in this class are simply excellent philosophers, and it is worthwhile for anyone interested in philosophical problems to read treatments of these problems by excellent philosophers. We will begin the course by looking briefly at some of the Presocratic philosophers active in the Mediterranean world of the seventh through fifth centuries BCE, and some of the sophists active in the fifth century. We will then turn to several of Plato’s dialogues, examining Plato’s portrayal of Socrates and his development of a new and profoundly powerful philosophical conception. We will then read some of Aristotle’s works on metaphysics, epistemology and ethics, considering some of the ways Aristotle’s thought responds to that of predecessors.
Format: lecture; discussion
Grading: yes pass/fail option,
yes fifth course option
short papers, possibly supplemented by one or more exams
Philosophy majors must take either PHIL 201 or PHIL 202 (and can take both)
This course is cross-listed and the prefixes carry the following divisional credit: