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, a solar eclipse occurred that Thales predicted. In 529, 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 BC. 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 is different. It is an attempt 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 traditions in human history.

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 major 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 major 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).

Learning Objectives for the Course

Knowledge of ancient philosophy is valuable in primarily two ways. It provides essential background for studies in the subsequent history of philosophy and in philosophy more generally. In addition, and perhaps most importantly, because many modern ways of thinking about human beings and their place in the world carry over from antiquity, an understanding of why the ancient philosophers had these thoughts allows one to consider whether these ways of thinking help us understand ourselves or, instead, have become a burden because they depend on assumptions that no longer seem true.

At the completion of this course, students will be familiar with the most important developments in ancient Greek philosophy from its beginnings in 585 BCE through the end of the Period of Schools in about 100 BCE. They will know how developments in ancient philosophy influenced physics, beginning with the Milesian revolution in the Presocratic Period and continuing with the theory of nature in Plato and Aristotle in the Period of Schools. They will understand the influence on psychology, beginning with Socrates' conception of the soul, its reinterpretation in Plato and in Aristotle, and with the attempt in the Stoics to clarify and develop the Socratic conception. They will know how ancient Greek philosophy influenced ethics and politics, beginning with the subversive forms of education and conceptions of human flourishing and the good life associated with Socrates and the Sophists, continuing with Plato's interpretation of the Socratic conception and the way this interpretation figures in his theory of justice, with Aristotle's attempt to remove the excesses from and preserve the insights in the Platonic interpretation, and with the conceptions of the good in the Epicureans and the Stoics.

Reading for the Course

The primary text 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. For the most part, these texts are available for free in translation on the internet 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.

Website for the Course

The website consists in a set of lecture notes. (The information on this site is subject to change. Be sure to refresh your browser to get the latest version.)

These lecture notes highlight some of the more important points in the course, but they are no substitute for reading the book and the ancients themselves. The most efficient way to do well in the course is to read the ancients against the background of the information on the website and in the book and to ask questions when you think you don't understand.

To make the pages on the website more presentable, 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 for additional pages and links, as well as for changes to existing ones. 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 and for suggestions to improve the course generally.

If you have a question about the material, please post it. (If, initially, you don't feel comfortable posting questions, feel free to email me.) Asking questions is a good way to learn. It also can help other students in the class, since someone is probably wondering the same thing. If someone asks, I can direct my remarks to the point in question.

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,, www.public.asu/~blackson