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The Good in Ancient Philosophy

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For the ancient Greeks philosophy is a way of life, in which considerations about the good (agathōn) are critical. There is widespread agreement that the good life is not just lived, but lived well. But opinions about how a flourishing or happy life could be achieved differ widely. Is the good just pleasure? Or virtue? Or is it realising one’s potential? Or a harmonious psychic balance? Or living according to nature?

Taking the lead from one core concept, this course is a broad introduction to ancient ethics and moral psychology suited for beginners. The (almost) exclusive focus on goodness allows for unique comparisons over a wide range of different views. By studying an exemplary selection of sources, from early sophists to later sceptics, we explore and think through a range of ancient ways of life; and in discussion, we wonder how this can inform our way of life today.

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2019-04-23 13:45
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Resources for this course

Displaying 1 - 18 of 18
Type Resource Description People Full details
Document The Good: Noble, Beautiful, and Honorable

The notes for our first meeting.

Peter Wyss
Document The Sophists: Antiphon, Protagoras, Callicles

The first coursework sheet: leading questions for the readings; general information about coursework.

Peter Wyss
Link The Sophists

Entry by C. C. W. Taylor and M.-K. Lee for the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy.

Document Socrates

The second coursework sheet with questions that relate to the preparatory readings.

Peter Wyss
Link Socrates

Stanford Encyclopedia entry by D. Nails, who addresses the 'Socratic Problem'.

Document Down to Earth with Socrates

The notes from our third meeting.

Peter Wyss
Document Plato and the Early Academy

The third coursework sheet.

Peter Wyss
Document The Sophists: Antiphon and Protagoras

The notes from our second meeting.

Peter Wyss
Document Further Notes on the Protagoras

An additional sheet with two clarificatory notes, one about the argument against the weakness of the will.

Peter Wyss
Document Aristotle

The fourth coursework sheet: leading questions and some background.

Peter Wyss
Document Plato and the Good

The notes from the fourth meeting.

Peter Wyss
Link Ancient Ethical Theory

R. Parry's brief overviews of the main lines of ethical thought in the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy.

Document Diogenes the Cynic

The fifth coursework sheet.

Peter Wyss
Document Notes on Aristotle and the Cynics

Notes from the fifth and sixth meetings.

Peter Wyss
Link Epicurus

D. Konstan's entry in the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy (2018). Section 4 is on ethics.

Document The Epicureans and the Stoics

The sixth coursework sheet with leading questions.

Peter Wyss
Link The Epicurean Inscription of Oinoanda

A short film about finding and preserving the inscription funded by Diogenes of Oinonanda.

Document Notes on Epicurus and the Stoics

A four page sheet: Epicurus on death, and key ideas in Stoic ethics.

Peter Wyss