Course Description

This course is a study of Plato's Republic and Aristotle's Nicomachean Ethics. These works are among the most important in ancient philosophy and perhaps in philosophy generally. In the Republic, Plato tries to understand what justice is and whether the just life is better than the unjust life. In the Nicomachean Ethics, Aristotle takes up the question of the human good in general.


Olympic runners, c. 525 BC

Reading for the Course

English translations of Plato's Republic and Aristotle's Nicomachean Ethics are freely available in the Perseus Digital Library. The translations are older but still very good. If you want newer translations, I recommend Plato. Republic (Translated by G. M. A. Grube. Revised by C. D. C. Reeve (Hackett Publishing, 1992)) and Aristotle. Nicomachean Ethics, 2nd edition (Translated, with Introduction, by Terence Irwin (Hackett Publishing, 2000)). In addition to these primary sources, I provide links to my lecture notes for each unit.

Final Grade for the Course

The final grade for the course is a function of your grade on 5 writing assignments (listed below), 6 discussion posts, and a bibliography project. Each writing assignment is worth 10 points. Each discussion post is worth 5 points. In a discussion post, you are to call attention to something in the reading you found interesting and are to explain why you found it interesting. These assignments and posts must be thoughtful. Writing assignments and discussion posts that appear to have been written quickly and with little care and attention to detail will not receive full credit. The bibliography project is worth 20 points. You are to analyze 5 journal articles or book chapters from the secondary literature on issues related to the material in the course.

The assignments (50 points), discussions (30 points), and bibliography project (20 points) total to 100 points of the final grade. There is no extra credit, but I am happy to work with students on independent projects. 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).

Incompletes are given only to accommodate serious illnesses and family emergencies, which must be adequately documented.



Course Itinerary

We will consider the argument in most of Plato's Republic and Aristotle's Nicomachean Ethics.



Unit 1:

Plato was in the circle around Socrates. In 399 BCE, when Plato was in his late twenties,
Socrates was executed by the city of Athens. Sometime after that, Plato began writing his
dialogues. The Republic is one of these dialogues.

The Republic consists in ten books. Book I is in the style of an early definitional dialogue
and constitutes an introduction to the Republic as a whole. Socrates' interlocutors are
Cephalus, Polemarchus, Thrasymachus, and Plato's brothers (Gluacon and Adeimantus).

The Opening Conversation
Republic I.327a (first page of the translation in the Perseus Digital Library)

Assignment #1
You are free to talk about the assignment and to post questions about it.



UNIT 2:

Glaucon is disappointed with the outcome of the discussion in Book I. He challenges
Socrates not just to drive his interlocutors into contradiction but to demonstrate that
the just life really is better than the unjust life. Socrates accepts the challenge and tries
to meet it in the remaining books of the Republic. He begins by setting out what
justice is in the city and what it is in the individual human being.

Justice in the City and in the Individual
Books II-IV of the Republic. (The Republic is long. Use the lecture notes to focus your attention.)
Republic II.357a (first page of the translation in the Perseus Digital Library)

Assignment #2 or Assignment #3 (Submit an answer to only one of these assignments)
You are free to talk about the assignments and to post questions about them.



UNIT 3:

Now that it is clear what justice is in the individual, Socrates argues that the
just life is better than the unjust life. The just life is the life of rulers in a just city. They
are "lovers of wisdom" (φιλόσοφοι). Their life is the most pleasant.

The Just Life is Better than the Unjust Life
Books V-IX of the Republic
Republic V.449a (first page of the translation in the Perseus Digital Library)

Assignment #4
You are free to talk about the assignment and to post questions about it.



UNIT 4:

Aristotle is the first great Platonist and Plato's first great critic. Aristotle accepts the broad outline of the
Platonic framework, but he also corrects what he regards as its mistakes.

The Aristotelian corpus contains two works on ethics: the Nicomachean Ethics and the
Eudemian Ethics. These titles seem to refer to Aristotle's friend (Eudemus of Rhodes) and
Aristotle's son (Nicomachus). The relationship between the Eudemian Ethics and
Nicomachean Ethics is uncertain. Books IV, V, and VI of the Eudemian Ethics are identical
to Books V, VI, and VII of the Nicomachean Ethics. It is traditional to assume that the
Eudemian Ethics is earlier and that the Nicomachean Ethics is is the most authoritative of the two works.

The Good Life for a Human Being
Book I.1-12 of the Nicomachean Ethics
Nicomachean Ethics I.1094a (first page of the translation in the Perseus Digital Library)

Assignment #5
You are free to talk about the assignment and to post questions about it.



UNIT 5:

For Aristotle, the good life is a life of reason. This life is proper to human beings. Further, the life of
reason takes two forms. The first and best form of the life of reason is the life of "contemplation"
(θεωρία). "Contemplation" is the activity in accordance with the "virtue" (ἀρετή) of the "intellect" (νοῦς),
and "intellect" is the cognition proper to human beings. The second best form of the life of reason is
the life of "practical wisdom" (φρόνησις). "Practical wisdom" is the activity in accordance with the virtue of
"choice" (προαίρεσις), and "choice" is the origin of movement proper to human beings.

The Lives of Reason: The First Best Life, The Second Best Life
Books I.13-III.5, VI-VII, and X of the Nicomachean Ethics
Nicomachean Ethics I.13.1102a (first page of the translation in the Perseus Digital Library)

Assignment #6 or Assignment #7 (Submit an answer to only one of these assignments)
You are free to talk about the assignments and to post questions about them.



UNIT 6:

There are two broad perspectives in ethics. One is "deontological," and the other is "teleological." Plato and
Aristotle share a "teleological" perspective. This perhaps more than anything else distinguishes their views from
other ways of thinking about justice and its connection to the way individuals arrange their lives.

A Common Perspective in Plato and Aristotle

Bibliography Project








Contact Information

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




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