PHIL301 -- Ancient Philosophy -- Fall 2021

Click here for the syllabus.

Scroll to bottom for newest entry.  Please check this page frequently for announcements, assignments, web links of interest, and so on.

To begin with, here are some sites you ought to get to know.  Our department web site includes this list of student research tools. 

I'll be mentioning this: the famous painting "The Death of Socrates" by Jacques-Louis David (1787).  Bonus: Now updated with meme goodness!

This is really interesting:  Prof. Stephen Hicks on the pre-Socratics and the birth of philosophy.

Some people have reported delays in the delivery of the books, so here'sPDFs of  The Apology

and the Euthyphro.

Optional additional reading on Crito:
Prof. Hicks on Socrates' argument that he shouldn't escape from prison.

My recent column on the common misreading of Plato as a utopian totalitarian. Maybe not so recent, a couple years ago now. But people continue to make this mistake, so...

The great Orson Welles narrates this video version of the Cave allegory.

Totally Optional Plato-Related Movie:
As we've seen in book VIII-IX, Plato argues that by being unjust, one harms oneself, and that to look after oneself properly requires justice.  According to the theory Plato develops, being just and virtuous is one’s self-interest, and being unjust and vicious is destructive of the self, not likely to promote one's happiness.    For a great fictional dramatization of this theme, I highly recommend the 1998 film noir A Simple Plan.  It's a crime thriller, but I think it's also an outstanding illustration of Plato's argument.  As it happens, I have written on this, and should you be interested, the essay appears in the book The Philosophy of Neo-Noir, edited by Mark T. Conard (Univ. Press of Kentucky, 2007). There is a pdf of the essay here, but see the movie first - you can get it from Netflix, e.g.  (Note-you may have to rotate the PDF, it scanned sideways.  Go to "view"; "rotate"; counterclockwise).  This is not an assignment, but may be of interest.

Even though this will be submitted electronically, the paper should be formatted as if for printing: 6-8 pages, double-spaced, in Times New Roman, 12-point, with 1-inch margins on all sides. Do not submit incorrectly formatted papers. Put your name, date, and "PHIL301" on the top right of page 1, and number the pages. Use MS WORD, meaning a .doc or a .docx file, and submit electronically via Blackboard. If you are having trouble uploading to Blackboard, you may send it as an attachment sent from your email account. This is due NLT 9:00 am MONDAY October 25.
Topic: Central to understanding anything else in Plato is his theory of Forms. What are the Forms? Consider at least two of Plato's arguments discussing the forms: one from the central books of Republic, and one other, perhaps (but not necessarily) the one in the Symposium. Compare, critically analyze, and evaluate these arguments, and say first of all what you take Plato to be saying, and second of all whether you find this persuasive.

Gorgias and Protagoras mini-lesson:
Note these passages from Gorgias and Protagoras: (Gorg) 453a-456a, 459a-461, 467c-468c, 473a-e, 503a-504; (Prot)332-334c, 356c-end.
In the Gorgias, we see more about Plato’s conception of the good life. (See also the entry above on A Simple Plan.) The tyrant is miserable; power ≠ happiness. We also see an important contrast between philosophy and rhetoric. Rhetoric is shown to not be a techne, because it’s not really about anything – there’s no logos since it’s only concerned with persuasion qua persuasion. It’s not concerned with the good, or with truths about anything. Since some people are clearly better at it than others, though, Plato says it’s a mere “knack” but not a true techne. There’s a statement around 473 that “what’s true is never refuted” that when I first read it struck me as amusing, but of course he’s making the appearance-reality distinction again: one can appear to have refuted the truth, but one can’t actually refute what is true.
The Protagoras has two interesting takeaways. One is the denial of relativism. Protagoras says “man is the measure of all things,” meaning there’s no reality or truth, just what any person thinks it is. But consider the claim “Nothing is true” – is that true? If it’s false, then relativism is defeated. But if it’s true, then it makes itself false, it’s self-refuting, and again relativism is defeated. So there has to be a transpersonal standard for assessing truth, not just one’s opinion. We’ll revisit this when we turn to Aristotle. The other interesting issue in this dialogue is so-called Socratic paradox that no one does evil knowingly; there’s no such thing as weakness of will; to know the good is to do the good. On this view, we explain someone doing a bad thing in terms of them not quite understanding that it’s bad. Moral errors are always a kind of cognitive error. Obviously no one errs willingly in that sense, though it’s less obvious that this means no one has irrational passions and acts on that – which indeed seems like something he acknowledged in the Republic! It continues to puzzle scholars. We’ll return to this also when Aristotle discusses it.

Raphael's School of Athens (and close-up)

Also highly relevant