Loyola University Chicago

Department of Philosophy

PHIL 304: History of Ancient Philosophy

PHIL 304: History of Ancient Philosophy

The Generic Catalog Description

Origins of philosophical problems among the Greeks and the main types of philosophical answers; extensive readings in the pre-Socratic fragments and records, in Plato, and in Aristotle.

PHIL 304: History of Ancient Philosophy

Joshua Mendelsohn

In this course, we will trace the development of philosophy in Greece from the earliest thinkers of record until Aristotle. Our guiding thread will be the relationship of Greek philosophy to the two major cultural practices it had to work to distinguish itself from: Sophistry and myth. The first part of the course tracks the early development of Greek philosophy in its dialogue with epic poetry. We will see how the earliest Greek philosophers appropriated the conventions of epic myth but challenged traditional theism and showed a new interest in the origin of the universe and the natural world. The second and third parts of the course focus on Socrates and Plato respectively. We will encounter them both through Plato’s dialogues, and see how Socrates and Plato each challenged, and appropriated, sophistry and Greek myth. Readings from Ion, Gorgias, Euthyphro, Apology, and Phaedo will supply a sketch of Socrates’ life and his fate as a subversive figure, while readings from Phaedo, Meno, Republic and Timaeus will show how Plato extends and transforms Socrates’ ethical project into a metaphysical-epistemological program and a political philosophy. Finally, we will turn to Aristotle, and examine how he pioneers the study of nature and develops and transforms Plato’s ideas about the good life, the ideal city, the soul and the nature of reality.

As well as studying the history of Greek philosophy, we will explore its relevance to our own lives and our political situation. Reflecting on the life of Socrates and on Plato’s ideal city, we will ask questions such as: Why did the Athenians really kill Socrates? Are there circumstances under which you could be persuaded to put someone like Socrates to death? Can censorship be justified for good political ends? And what are we to make of the commitments of Greek philosophers that are repugnant to us today, such as Aristotle’s endorsement of slavery?