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

The ancient philosophical tradition begins in 585 BCE with Thales of Miletus. It ends about a thousand years later in 529 CE when the Christian Emperor Justinian move to protect the Empire by prohibiting pagans from teaching. This period in philosophy subdivides into three periods of unequal duration and importance: the Presocratic Period, the Period of Schools, and the Period of Scholarship.


Olympic runners, c. 525 BC

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 aim in the history of ancient philosophy is to understand what the ancients philosophers 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. In this way, the history of ancient philosophy and philosophy have different aims. Philosophy is not an inquiry into the past. It is an attempt to solve philosophical problems.

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 two main ways. It provides essential background for more advanced studies in the history of philosophy and in philosophy more generally. In addition, it sheds light on many present-day institutions and ways of thinking because so much of modern life has its origins in the pioneering and now long-lived work of the ancient philosophers. Because so many modern ways of thinking about human beings and their place in the world have their origins in ancient philosophy, an understanding of these developments in antiquity puts one in a position to consider whether these ways of thinking are helpful or instead have outlived their usefulness, have become a burden, and no longer help us understand ourselves and what we do.

At the completion of this course, students will be familiar with the institution of philosophy in the ancient world. They will be familiar with the most important developments in ancient philosophy, from its beginnings in 585 BCE and through the end of the Period of Schools in 100 BCE. In addition, students will be familiar with how ancient philosophy influenced other areas of human history. They will be familiar with how it influenced physics, beginning with the Milesian revolution in the Presocratic Period and continuing with the theory of nature in the work of Plato and Aristotle in the Period of Schools. They will be familiar with how ancient philosophy influenced 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 be familiar how ancient philosophy influenced ethics and politics, beginning with the subversive forms of education and conceptions of 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 from the excesses from and preserve the insights in the Platonic interpretation, and with the interpretations of the good life 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 webpages 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 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.

If you have a question, please post it. (If you don't feel comfortable posting it, 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
blackson@asu.edu, tomblackson.com, www.public.asu/~blackson