Philosophy 231                                                     Jill Gordon       Lovejoy 251

Ancient Philosophy                                            Office Hours:  M: 1:30-3:00; Th: 4:00-5:00

Fall 2006                                                                 And by appointment:   ext. 4554






(1)  Beginnin with the Presocratics, Merrill Ring
(2)  Meno
, Plato
(3)  Theaetetus
, Plato

(4)  Republic, Plato

(5)  Phaedo, Plato

(6)  The Philosophy of Aristotle, Renford Bambrough, ed.

(7)  Hellenistic Philosophy, Brad Inwood, ed.




There will be two in-class examinations, one library assignment, and a comprehensive final examination.  Each in class examination will be worth 30% (for a total of 60%), and the cumulative final examination will be worth 40% of the final grade.  The library assignment will be graded on a √, +, - basis and, although it does not figure in to the numerical computation of your grade, completing the assignment on time will be a necessary condition for passing the course. When making travel arrangements for official Colby breaks or sports competitions, please note class meetings, exam times and dates carefully.  Exam dates and assignment due dates appear in bold face on the syllabus. Daily attendance is expected.


The two in-class examinations will take place in the evenings so as to give you ample time to complete them.  Please note the two dates and times of the examinations.


EXAMINATION #1:  Wednesday, October 18th, 2006, 7:00 p.m.

EXAMINATION #2: Monday, Novemer 20th, 2006, 7:00 p.m.


NO MAKE-UP EXAMS will be scheduled.  Please notify me ASAP if you have a class conflict with either of these exam dates and times.




This is primarily a lecture course due to the sheer volume of material that needs to be covered, its general level of difficulty, and the size of the class.  When possible, we will engage in discussion.  I expect everyone to come to class every day prepared to respond when called upon.  This course will get progressively more difficult.  It is imperative for your own good that you keep up on daily readings, especially when we get to Aristotle.  You should attempt to completed readings twice—once before lecture and once after.




Plagiarism is the use of ideas and expressions (or entire papers) not your own without appropriate attribution.  You must cite all sources: books, journals, television programs, films, web sites, downloaded documents, lectures, correspondence, just to name some of  the most common examples.   When in doubt, site your source.  Consequences for plagiarizing will be (a) failure of this course, (b) a report to the Dean of Students Office for your academic record, and (c) suspension from Colby if this is your second offense.  Please see student handbook and/or college catalogue for more details.



Do not bring your cell phones to class.  Any student whose cell phone rings during class will be asked to leave class for that day.






W. Sept  6     Introduction to the course.  Lecture on early figures: Thales, Anixamander, Aniximenes, Xenophanes, and the nature of the material arché.  Optional reading, Ring, Chapters 3 & 4, pp. 17-39.

F. Sept 8        Pre-Socratics: Read Ring, Chapter 5 pp. 40-58.  Would you consider Pythagoras a scientist, strictly speaking?  How does Pythagoras differ from Thales in what he is trying to accomplish?  How might you explain the relationship between the supernatural (mythical/religious) and the natural (scientific) for Pythagoreans?

M. Sept 11      Pre-Socratics: Read Ring, Chapter 6, pp. 59-81.  What is philosophically significant about Heraclitus' writing style?  What is the role of logos in Heraclitus' thought.  What is the connection between his ideas on change and his ideas on unity?  What are his views of fire, and how do they differ from predecessors who spoke similarly of original matter?

W. Sept 13     Pre-Socratics: Read Ring, Chapter 7, pp. 82-103.  This is a bit more technical, and we will go through things slowly.  Why do you suppose that Parmenides puts his ideas in the mouth of a goddess?  What are the three ways of thinking that P. is going to speak about?  What are modal terms?  What are the three senses of "is" that the author discusses?  What is wrong with the way we ordinarily think, according to Parmenides?  What exactly is the "contradiction" that occurs when we think in the ordinary ways? 

F. Sept 15       Pre-Socratics: Read Ring, Chapter 8, pp. 104-118.  What consequences follow from Parmenides' philosophy  of change and unity?  How do those ideas of change and unity compare with Heraclitus' views on the same matter?  What does it mean to say P's monism is logical rather than cosmological?  What in P's theory would seem to prevent him from developing a cosmogony?  In what way did Parmenides' work redirect the philosophical movement?

M. Sept 18     Pre-Socratics:  Read Ring, Chapter 11, pp. 152-154. What is a sophist?  Explain how sophistry might have been an outgrowth of Eleatic philosophy.  What were the objections to the professional sophists in Socrates' time?  What are the moral and epistemic concerns generated by sophists' teachings?  Do we have any contemporary counterparts to the sophists?

W. Sept 20    Introduction to Plato.  *****  If you have not read the dialogues surrounding Socrates' trial (Euthyphro, Crito, Apology), you should do so; if you have read them, please review your class notes.  Our discussions of Plato will assume a working knowledge of these dialogues.  Plato.  Read Meno .  What do we learn about Meno's character in the early part of this dialogue?  Is there a connection between his character and the topic of discussion?  What is the strongest meaning we can assign to Meno's challenge to Socrates?  What is going on with the slave demonstration?  What is Meno supposed to be learning from his slave?  In what way is the slave made better off by Socrates?  What is Socrates' ultimate justification for the theory of recollection?  What is the difference between knowledge and true belief?

F. Sept 22       Plato.  Read Theaetetus up to 179d.  What do we learn about Theaetetus' character?  How or why is it significant that he is said to be like Socrates?  What are the implications for the midwife metaphor?  Does Socrates ever give live births?  Does he want to?  Who was Protagoras?  Explain Socrates' difficulty with the "man is the measure" doctrine.  What do we learn about Theodorus' character?  What is the significance of the many references to youth and old age in this dialogue?   How is it connected to the specific characters involved in conversation?

M. Sept 25     Plato.  Read Theaetetus 179d—end.  What is Socrates saying about the problem of false statements?  What is the epistemological problem Socrates is trying to avoid in his criticisms of Protagoras' doctrine, "man is the measure," and Heraclitus doctrine of flux, i.e., what consequences do these doctrines have in common that Socrates wants to avoid?  What is the significance of the discussion about the philosopher versus the practical man of law?  Why do you suppose this dialogue ends without having answered the question, "What is knowledge?"

W. Sept 27     Plato.  Catch up on Meno & Theaetetus.

F. Sept 29      Plato.  Read Republic, Books I and II [all, 327a-383c].  What philosophical themes are introduced by the dramatic action in Book I?  How are the characters of the dramatic personae philosophically relevant?  What values does Thrasymachus represent?  Explain the significance of the story of Gyges' ring.  What cultural influences lie behind Glaucon's and Adeimantus's belief that unjust deeds are more profitable than just deeds?  What differentiates the city of need from the luxurious city?

M. Oct 2         Plato.  Read Republic, Book V [471c to end], Book VI [all, 484a-511d], Book VII [514a- 521c].  What is the larger significance of Glaucon's question whether the just city is possible?  What sense can we make of having a model?  How is having a model related to the discussion of beauty itself or justice itself?  Explain the philosophical meaning of the three images created by Plato: the ship of state, the sun, and the divided line. What is the allegory of the cave supposed to show Glaucon and Adeimantus?.  What larger implications might it have?

W. Oct 4        Plato.  Read Republic, Book IX [589a-592b],  and Book X [all, 595a-end].  How would you evaluate Socrates' success in meeting the challenge to show that justice is good for its own sake?  What is the significance of the ending of Book IX?  What are the political implications of Book X's censorship?  How does the theme of imitation re-emerge here, and how might it be relevant to the metaphysical view associated with the forms?  What is the function of the myth of Er?

F. Oct 6          Plato:  Catch-up on Republic.

M. Oct 9         Plato.  Read Phaedo up to 84db.  What do you think Socrates means when he speaks of living the philosophical life?    What are the three arguments Socrates gives for the immortality of the soul?  What are Cebes' and Simmias' objections to Socrates' arguments?  Are Socrates' arguments persuasive?

W. Oct 11       Plato.  Read Phaedo 84b-end.  How does Socrates respond to the objections of his friends?  What kind of characters are Cebes and Simmias?  How do they compare to Euthyphro, for example? What dramatic and philosophical role does fear play in this dialogue?  What are the "causes" to which Socrates refers and in what manner are they causes?  What type of metaphysics emerges from this dialogue?  What view of philosophy emerges from this dialogue?

F. Oct 13         Library Introduction.  Meet at Miller Library: Philosophers' Index Data Base, Colby Periodicals, Interlibrary Loan.  See your "Survival Kit" for guidance. 

M. Oct 16       FALL BREAK. 

W. Oct 18   Catch-up and review Pre-Socratics and Plato.  EXAM #1 tonight.

F. Oct 20        Introduction to Aristotle.  What is natural philosophy?  What is teleology? What is significant about Aristotle's approach to philosophy regarding the nature of things?

M. Oct 23       Aristotle.  Read text, Physics, Book II. How is Aristotle using the term, "cause"?  What are the four causes--material, formal, efficient, and final?  Can you explain each and give examples?  What marks the final cause as particularly important?  What is Aristotle's concern in his discussions of chance, spontaneity, and necessity?  What does all of this have to do with creating a "science" of something?

W. Oct 25      Aristotle.  Read text Metaphysics Books I, II.  What is an empiricist?  In what way is Aristotle's method empirical and his inferences empiricist?  What is the hierarchy Aristotle sets up among the various kinds of "knowing"?  What does he say of earlier attempts at understanding causation?  What are Aristotle's criticisms of the theory of ideas or forms?  Explain Aristotle's point regarding the various degrees of rigor in each science.

F. Oct 27        Aristotle.  Read text, Metaphysics Book IV.  How does Aristotle distinguish metaphysics from other inquiries?  What does he mean by first principles?  What are the law of non-contradiction and the law of excluded middle, and why is Aristotle so concerned about them?  Can you see the problem of relativism to which he refers?  How do the distinctions between substance/accident and potential/actual help Aristotle solve the problem of relativism?  Do you see a connection to Plato's concerns in Theaetetus?  Do you see a connection to concerns about the nature of change that existed since the pre-Socratics?

M. Oct 30       Aristotle.  Read text, Metaphysics, Book XII, Chs. 1, 6, 7, 9, 10. What is the argument Aristotle makes about the unmoved mover?  What metaphysical significance does it have?  Which categories among the four causes does the unmoved mover fall into?  Explain.

W. Nov 1        Aristotle:  Catch-up on Physics & Metaphysics


F. Nov 3         Aristotle.  Read text, Ethics, Books I, II.  What is Aristotle's procedural method in this work?  What is the general connection Aristotle implies exists between politics and ethics?  What is the highest good for humans?  What is the function of humans?   Using the notion of virtue, explain the difference between carrying out one's function and carrying out one's function well.  Do you see the connection to his earlier discussion of the four causes?  What is the key ingredient in Aristotle's view in Book II of becoming virtuous?  How does this differ significantly from what we know about the Socratic view of becoming virtuous?  Explain how the doctrine of the "mean relative to us" is not a kind of ethical relativism.


M. Nov 6     Aristotle.  Read text, Ethics, Books III, IV.  What does Aristotle count as a voluntary action?  Why is it important for any ethical theory to establish this distinction?  Explain why it is consistent with other things Aristotle has said that he takes time to point out the gray area between voluntary and involuntary.  What is your general impression of Aristotle's discussion of the many particular virtues?  How does the great-souled person differ from our own cultural ideals?  LIBRARY assignment due today in class.


W. Nov 8       Aristotle. Read text, Ethics, Book VII.  What is Aristotle's account of weakness of will?  In the end, does it differ significantly from what Socrates presents regarding this same matter in the Meno?  If similar, how might Aristotle consider his presentation of the problem here an improvement over the Socratic view of it?


F. Nov 10       Aristotle:  Catch up on Ethics.


M. Nov 13      Aristotle.  Read text, Ethics,  Book X.  What does Aristotle say about pleasure?  What is Aristotle's conclusion regarding the happy life for man?  Does Book X seem consistent with the rest of the Ethics?  Taking an overall view, how does Aristotle's philosophy compare with what we read in Plato's dialogues?


W. Nov 15      Aristotle.  Read text, Poetics.  Explain the difference between tragedy and comedy.  In what way is theater natural, according to Aristotle?  What ought good tragedy strive to achieve in its viewers?  Do you see yet another manifestation of Aristotle's methodology in this work?  Do you see how the four causes are relevant to the Poetics?


F. Nov 17        Aristotle. We will discuss "Mystic River," a film by Clint Eastwood.  What aspects of this film, if any, fit Aristotle's description of tragedy?  What aspects, if any, are inconsistent with Aristotle's conception of tragic  poetry?  What might be the emotional reactions of an audience of this film?  Are those reactions consistent with what Aristotle says about the function and telos of tragedy?  Do you think we are more culturally the same or different from the Greeks in the creation of our dramatic art forms and the cultural role they play?


M. Nov 20  Aristotle. Catch-up.  Exam #2 tonight


W. Nov 22  Thanksgiving Break. 


F. Nov 24   Thanksgiving Break.


M. Nov 27      Epicureans.  Read Inwood: Biography, Letter to Herodotus, and Letter to Menoeceus, (pp. 3-19 and 28-31; also read last ¶ of the section that ends on p. 28.).  What is the starting point for human knowledge according to Epicurus?  Explain Epicurus' atomism.  What is ataraxia?  How is ataraxia related to the study of physics?  What should our attitude toward death be?  Why?  What is the goal of the blessed life?  Can you reconcile the apparent inconsistency between his lifestyle (hedonism) and his philosophy (asceticism)?


W. Nov 29     Epicureans.  Read Inwood: Principal Doctrines, Sayings, Reports, and part of Cicero's testimony, pp. 32-56.  Can you explain the maxims and sayings in light of what you already know about Epicurus' philosophy?  What is the distinction E. is making between the intellect and the flesh?  What is Epicurus' view of necessity and fate?  Explain "the swerve" and Cicero's criticism of it.


F.  Dec 1         Catch up on Epicureans


M. Dec 4        Skeptics.  Academics and Pyrrhonists.  Read Inwood, , pp.261-297; 300-302 [III-1 through III-22; III-25].  What do the academic skeptics say regarding a criterion of truth and what reasons do they give for the withholding of assent?  What was Pyrrho trying to achieve by his way of life?  What are the ten modes?   Is there an ethical aspect to ancient skepticism?


W. Dec 6        Skeptics.  Late Pyrrhonists: Sextus Empiricus.  Read Inwood, pp. 302-341 [III-26 through III-37].  How does Sextus' work add to what we've already learned about skepticism?


F. Dec 8          Catch-up and review Hellenistic philosophers


THE CUMULATIVE FINAL EXAMINATION (40%)  will take place on this course's scheduled exam day.  Currently, this course is in exam slot 1, which is likely to be on the morning of Wednesday, December 13th, 2006