Thomas A. Blackson, PHI 328 (History of Ancient Philosophy), Credits: 3
Prerequisites: ENG 102, 105 or 108 with C or better; Minimum 25 hours
PHI 328 satisfies a requirement for the Major in Philosophy
PHI 328 satisfies H (historical awareness) and HU (humanities, arts and design) in the University Undergraduate General Studies Requirement

Course Description

Ancient Greek philosophy begins in 585 BCE with Thales of Miletus. It ends about a thousand years later in 529 CE. (These dates are conventional. In 585 BCE, a solar eclipse occurred that Thales predicted. In 529 CE, to protect the Empire from being corrupted, the Christian Emperor Justinian prohibited pagans from teaching on any subject.) Within this nearly thousand year tradition, historians recognize three main subperiods: the Presocratic Period, the Period of Schools, and the Period of Scholarship.


Terracotta Panathenaic prize amphora, c. 530 BCE. Attributed to the Euphiletos Painter.

The focus in this course is on the first two periods, or roughly the first 500 years of ancient Greek philosophy. Within this focus, the concentration is on the thought of Socrates, Plato, Aristotle, and the Hellenistic Philosophers (the Epicureans, the Stoics, and the Academic Skeptics). This focus and concentration is standard in the sequence of history courses required for the philosophy major in most American universities.

The approach in this course is historical. Philosophy itself is not an inquiry into the past. It is an attempt to solve philosophical problems. The history of philosophy does not have this aim. In the history of philosophy, the goal is to understand what certain philosophers who lived in the past thought about certain matters, why they had these thoughts, and how these thoughts figure in the history of philosophy and in other histories.

Grade for the Course

The final grade (A+, A, A-, B+, B, B-, C+, C, D, E) is determined by your grade on 5 quizzes (50%), 10 questions (40%), and 5 debriefing sessions (10%). There is a quiz for each of the five units of the course (Presocratics, Socrates, Plato, Aristotle, Hellenistic Philosophers). Each quiz consists of ten multiple-choice questions. Each quiz is worth 10% of your total grade for the course. There is a set of one or more questions for each of the five units of the course. Answers to each question in the set for the unit should be about one to two pages in length. The answers are graded pass/fail. Each answer is worth 4% of your total grade. There is a "debriefing" session for each of the units of the course. In the debriefing sessions, you are to share your experiences in the course with the class. Each debriefing session is worth 2% of your total grade. There is no possibility for extra credit, but I am happy to help students with independent projects. Late work will not be accepted without good reason. Incompletes are given only to accommodate serious illnesses and family emergencies, which must be adequately documented.

The 5 quizzes (10 points each), 10 questions (4 points each), and 5 debriefing sessions (2 points each) sum to 100 points for the course. The point total determines the final letter grade: A+ (100-97), A (96-94), A- (93-90), B+ (89-87), B (86-84), B- (83-80), C+ (79-77), C (76-70), D (69-60), E (59-0).


Objective for the Course

The aim of this course is to provide the student with an understanding the most important developments in ancient philosophy from the beginning of the period in 585 BCE to the end of the Period of Schools in about 100 BCE. This knowledge is useful for understanding other academic disciplines and for understanding how we think about ourselves and our place in the world. Knowledge of the developments in ancient philosophy is helpful for understanding the history of philosophy, other areas of philosophy, and other histories (such as the history of physics, psychology, and ethics and politics). In addition, because so many contemporary ways of thinking about human beings and their place in the world have their origin in ancient philosophy, understanding how these thoughts arose in the ancient philosophers allows us to consider whether these ways of thinking are still useful or, instead, are now a burden because they depend on assumptions we no longer accept.


Readings for the Course

The textbook for the course is Ancient Greek Philosophy: From the Presocratics to the Hellenistic Philosophers. We will also read selected passages from the source material for the period of study. This material is the evidence on which our knowledge of ancient philosophy depends. For the most part, it is available for free in the Perseus Digital Library and the MIT Classics Library.

You may wish to consider certain supplementary texts that contain more modern translations and other information. These texts are not required for the course.


Lectures for the Course

There is an extensive set of lecture notes for the readings. These notes are to be read in conjunction with the textbook and the selected passages from the source material for the period of study. (The information on these lecture notes is subject to change without notice. Be sure to refresh your browser to get the latest version.)

In an effort to make the notes easier to read, I have not highlighted every link. In particular, I have not highlighted links to less central information; however, if something stands in need of explanation, there is a fair chance that I have linked it to the explanation even if the link itself is not highlighted. Hovering uncovers the link by changing the color of the text from black to blue. (So, for example, in the "Reading for the Course" section above, the phrase supplementary texts covers a hidden link to a list of supplementary texts.)

I welcome suggestions (via email) for additional notes and links, as well as for changes to existing ones to make them clearer or correct mistakes. Please report broken links and other problems, such as typos. I know there are typos in the book and on the website, but I have trouble finding them. I very much appreciate your help in this matter.

I also welcome technical suggestions for website design, development, and hosting. I designed and constructed the website linked through this syllabus and am hosting it (as part of tomblackson.com) on a cloud server through DigitalOcean, but I can't say I really know much about all this. My knowledge, such as it is, comes from reading just enough to get it going.




Contact Information

Thomas A. Blackson
Philosophy Faculty
Lattie F. Coor Hall, room 3356
School of Historical, Philosophical, and Religious Studies
PO Box 874302
Arizona State University
Tempe, AZ. 85287-4302
blackson@asu.edu, tomblackson.com, www.public.asu/~blackson