Ancient Philosophy (80-250)

Instructor: Robert Cavalier (

Photo by Robert Cavalier This course will cover Ancient Greek philosophy from the pre-Socratics to the later Hellenistic writers. We will prepare the background for Socrates and Plato by tracing the various historical and intellectual movements that led up to and through the flourishing and downfall of Periclean Athens. A study of Socrates (as represented in Aristophanes' comedy and Plato's early dialogues) will lead to an in-depth reading of Plato's Gorgias, Symposium and sections of the Republic. We will approach Aristotle through his 'practical philosophy' as presented in the Nicomachean Ethics. The final sections will discuss the Epicurean, Skeptic, and Stoic movements as well as the work of Cicero. Excerpts from other works of Plato and Aristotle as well as Martha Nussbaum's recent work on Aristotle and Hellenistic philosophy will accompany selected parts of the course.

Course Outline

Part I The Pre-Socratics

Historical Context
The Ionian Physicalists
The Pythagoreans
Heraclitus and Parmenides
Part II Socrates

Life and Times: Athens In the Fifth Century BC
Aristophanes' The Clouds
Plato's Early Dialogues
The Gorgias:A Justification of the Life of Socrates
Part III Plato

The Path of Love
The Symposium
The Path of Knowledge
The Sophist
The Divided Line, Allegory of the Cave and the Paradox of the Philosopher-King
The Republic
Part IV Aristotle

Nicomachean Ethics

Part V Hellenistic and Roman Philosophy

The Epicureans
The Skeptics
The Stoics

Course Readings

Selected handouts plus Merrill Ring's Beginning with the Pre-Socratics, Plato's Apology and Crito, the Gorgias, and the Symposium; Aristotle's Nicomachean Ethics; and chapters from Nussbaum's Love's Knowledge ("The Discernment of Perception: An Aristotelian Conception of Private and Public Rationality") and The Therapy of Desire ("Epicurean Surgery: Argument and Empty Desire," "Skeptic Purgatives: Disturbance and the Life without Belief," and "Stoic Tonics: Philosophy and the Self-Government of the Soul"). Further reading resources can be found in the online bibiliography.

Online Resources

Episteme Links contains the main meta-resource for philosophy materials on the World Wide Web. Also recommended is the HIPPIAS search engine.

A number of excellent resources in Greek civilization and philosophy are becoming available on the Web. Of special importance are the Perseus Project at Tufts (see, especially, Thomas Martin's Overview of Greek History), MIT's Classics Archive and Tony Beaver's Exploring Plato's Dialogues.

Also of use is the CD-ROM version of the Routledge Encyclopedia of Philosophy.

This course utilizes a Course Management System ( Go here to access Course Requirements, Grading Criteria, Class Forum, Announcements, Calendar, etc.


Robert Cavalier / Carnegie Mellon University