Ancient Ethics Assignments

4/21. Reading: Dolly's paper (and possible WebCT post).

Paper (other members of the class): Post at least one comment or question (preferably two) regarding Dolly's paper. These can be one of four types:

  1. Clarification request. You claim p, but I don't know what you mean by saying p. Please clarify. Do you mean by this p', p''...?
  2. Argument request. You claim p. I think I know what you mean by p. But why do you claim p? I don't see any argument for p, and I think you need to give an argument for it.
  3. Objection.You claim p. (and maybe you argue for it). However, I think that p, (or your argument for p), is problematic. Here's my objection to p (or to your argument for p): q. What do you say in response to q?
  4. Suggestion of parallels. You claim p. P (or your argument for p) reminds me of so-and-so's claim that q (or his argument for q). Are the two really similar? Does comparing p to q help illuminate p, or is it just misleading?

For 4/19. No new readings. We'll evaluate the Burnyeat and Thorsrud articles, and talk about whether we agree with Sextus or not.
For 4/14. Readings: Possible papers:

  1. Sextus raises and tries to answer several "self-refutation" objections against the skeptic. Explain and evaluate one of these arguments and Sextus' response to it. (Note: sometimes this is merely implicit.) Alternatively, discuss and evaluate what Burnyeat has to say about this sort of self-refutation.
  2. How does Sextus' Pyrrhonian skepticism differ from Academic skepticism, according to Sextus, and why is only Pyrrhonian skepticism truly skeptical, while the academics are actually dogmatists? Evaluate some part of what Sextus says.
  3. How can one consistently live as a skeptic, according to Sextus, and why is a person better off as a skeptic? Do you agree with him? Why, or why not?
  4. Burnyeat criticizes the Pyrrhonian sceptic as being pathologically detached from his own mental states. Explain and evaluate some part of Burnyeat's critique.
  5. Wide open: anything else that strikes your fancy in the various readings.

For 4/12. Reading Cicero On Moral Ends book 5. We'll be concentrating on Antiochus' claim that a synthesis of all of the main points of Aristotelian, Platonist, and Stoic ethics is possible in which their minor (mainly terminological) differences are resolved and the correct moral theory results. We'll also look at Cicero's quite brief criticism of the theory at the end.
For 4/7. Read book iv of Cicero's On Moral Ends, and re-read Striker's article on Antipater on the Art of Living.

Paper: Set out and evaluate one of Cicero's objections to the Stoics. (For his oain one, about preferred indifferents and their value, bringing in Striker would be very helpful.)

Alternate topic. Do you think that the description of the Stoic 'Art of Living,' as described by Striker, is convincing? (That's pretty broad. You can also set out and evaluate some particualr aspect of the art of living (and the value of indifferents) as she describes it.)

For 3/31. Read the Handbook of Epictetus. You may also find helpful the following overview of Epictetus.

Paper: pretty wide open. Explain and comment either on one of the themes or concepts common in the Handbook (such as how to use impressions, what is in our power, the role of God in ethics, living in accordance with nature, etc.) or one of the entries in particular. Or you can draw connections between Epictetus and the Stoic theory as laid out in On Moral Ends book 3, either talking about how it helps expand upon, illuminate, or complement some aspect of that theory in some way, or how it contradicts or stands in tension to some aspect of it.

For 3/29. No new reading.
For 3/24. Reading: Book 3 of 'On Moral Ends' and Striker's article; "The Role of oikeiosis in Stoic ethics." We'll concentrate on the earlier parts of the Cicero. You may also find helpful the following summary of Stoic ethics.

paper: Set out and evaluate one of the claims and/or arguments in the readings. For instance:

For 3/22. No new reading. Continue with the Cyrenaics.
For 3/17. Read the selection from Diogenes Laertius on the Cyrenaics and O'Keefe's article on the Cyrenaics. Also read the following on-line introduction to the Cyrenaics.

Paper: Explain and evaluate the Cyrenaics' reason for one of the following claims:

For 3/15.Read book II of De Finibus and Nagel's article "Death." We'll be discussing Cicero's various criticisms of the EPicurean position and Nagel's criticisms of the Epicurean argument against the badness of death. For the 6030 paper, write whatever you wish on the material already covered, evaluating some of the arguments and positions of Epicurus.
For 3/3. Read the material from Lucretius on death in the course packet, plusre-red the material on friendship. No reading response paper. Subjects: friendship and death.
For Monday 3/1. Read the rest of DF book I plus the paper by Matt Evans and the summary of Torquatus' argument I sent you.

Paper for 5030: see below; we'll go over material already covered, as usual.

For Wed. 2/25. Reading: Cicero, "On Moral Ends" Introduction, and book I through section 64. Also read the material by Epicurus in the course packet (although we'll concentrate on the Cicero material).

Paper: Set out in your own words and briefly evaluate one the arguments the Epicurean spokesman gives. These can be any of them, but here are some of the topics that are especially central:

For Monday 2/23. No new reading. Finish up Aristotle.

Paper for 6030. See below for possible topics, or make up a variation on the below. Write on some aspect of Aristotle on (i) friendship, (ii) pleasure, or (iii) the life of study, or something that either Annas or Nagel says about these topics. On (iii), you may look at and evaluate Aristotle's arguments for why the life the study is the happiest of all, why it may be a divine life rather than a human one, and whether this conception of happiness conflicts with other portions of the NE.

For Wed. 2/18. Reading Nicomachean Ethics Books 10, and re-read Julia Annas' paper, "Self-Love in Aristotle."

  1. Annas identifies a tension between Aristotle's doctrine that the virtuous person wishes good things for his friend for the friend's own sake and his doctrine about 'virtuous self-love.' Discuss either why she thinks there is this tension, how she proposes to resolve it, or some other aspect of Annas' article. Do you think that there is really a problem here for Aristotle?
  2. Why does Aristotle think that a life of pleasant amusement isn't the end? Evaluate his argument.
  3. Why are some pleasures good, and others bad, according to Aristotle? Evaluate his argument.
  4. According to Aristotle, we all aim at pleasure, and the prospect of pleasure helps to guide us toward certain activities. Nonetheless, pleasure isn't the highest good, and we don't pursue those activities for the sake of pleasure. Why not? Evaluate his argument.

For Monday 2/16. Reading Nicomachean Ethics Books 8 and 9, and Julia Annas' paper, "Self-Love in Aristotle."

No new paper for 4030. But here are the papers I would have assigned on this material, FYI:

  1. Aristotle make the following claims: there are three types of friendship, the friendships of utility, pleasure, and virtue. The first two types are unstable. The friendship of virtue is the only stable type of friendship; it is complete, and it can only occur between virtuous people. Explain what these three types of friendship are, and his arguments for the claims above. If you disagree with any of them, say which ones, and why. (Reading, NE Bk 8 chapter 3)

  2. Aristotle claims that the virtuous person loves himself and is a friend to himself (or at least takes the same attitude toward himself as toward his friend), whereas the base person is not a friend to himself. Why does Aristotle think these things? Do you agree with him? Why or why not? (Reading NE Bk 9 chapter 4).

For 2/11. Read Nicomachean Ethics, book II, and re-read chapter 10 and 13 of Book I.


  1. Look at chapter 10 of book 1. Solon says "count no man happy until he is dead." Why does Aristotle think that even events that occur after our death can some impact (albeit a small one) on our happiness? Do you agree with him? Why or why not? More generally, can events that we're totally unaware of have an impact on our happiness?
  2. (see NE II.3 in particular). Aristotle says that, to be virtuous, it isn't enough to do the right thing; one must also take pleasure (or at least not feel pain) in doing the right thing. Why does he think this? Consider to the following two cases: Two people have borrowed a great deal of money from a friend, who now needs it back, but both are poor, and returning it would be a hardship. The first returns it easily, and is happy to have the opportunity to pay his friend back. The second really doesn't want to return it, and has to struggle with himself, but with a great effort of will he manages to overcome his reluctance and return the money, because he knows that is what he ought to do. Which person is better? Which person is more praiseworthy? What would Aristotle say, and do you agree with him? Why or why not?
  3. "The golden mean." Aristotle says that virtue is a mean between extremes. What does he mean by this, and why does he think it? In what sense is virtue a mean, and in what sense isn't it? Do you agree with Aristotle? (See NE II.5 and II.6. in particular, and NE II 7 to see the application of this doctrine to particular virtues.)

For 2/4. Read book I of the Nicomachean Ethics and Nagel's article.

Paper #1: Why isn't having virtue sufficient for happiness, according to Aristotle? (Look at chapter 5 in particular. ) What *is* the relationship between virtue and happiness? (See chapters 7 and 13 in particular.) What do you think of Aristotle's arguments?

Paper #2: Why does Aristotle think that happiness can't be the same as pleasure, or a life of pleasure? Do you agree with him? Why or why not? See chapters 5 and 7 in particular.

(3) Explain and comment on Aristotle's own conception of what eudaimonia is (based upon the notion of there being a human 'function'). If you wish, bring in and discuss some of Nagel's article on this subject.

For 2/2. Finish up the Symposium. We'll be concentrating on Vlastos' article. For the 6030 satellite meeting, please pick one of the topics for the 1/28 paper.
For 1/28. Reading: the Symposium. and Vlastos' article in the course packet, "The Individual as an Object of Love in Plato." Reading response paper: pretty wide open. We'll be concentrating on Diotima's speech (as reported by Socrates) and Vlastos' article. Write on one of the following general areas:
For 1/26. Reading: the Symposium. If you want to, you can also read Vlastos' article on the course packet, "The Individual as an Object of Love in Plato," although we'll be discussing that more on Wednesday than on Monday. We'll finish up the Gorgias at the start of class and then move on to the Symposium,

Reading response paper: none for 4030, and for 6030 Satellite group at 11 a.m. Monday, write on one of the topics for 1/21. We'll be concentrating on the Vlastos article.

For 1/21.

Reading: the rest of the Gorgias, plus Gregory Vlastos' book chapter in the course packet, "Happiness and Virtue in Socrates' Moral Theory."

Possible paper topics:

  1. Callicles distinguishes between 'natural' and 'conventional' justice. Explain the distinction in your own words and give your own evaluation of some part of what Callicles says.
  2. Explain and evaluate one or more of Socrates' objections to hedonism. If you wish, you also may explore the question of whether these objections refute Callicles position.
  3. In the Gorgias, Socrates gives his positive views on what the good life is and how to achieve it. Explain and evaluate some part of his position and/or his arguments for it.
  4. Why does Socrates say that he is one of the few Athenians who takes up the 'true political craft' and practices the ‘true’ politics? Explain and evaluate what he says.
  5. Explain what you think the afterlife myth at the end of the Gorgias adds (or subtracts) to Socrates' case in favor of justice.
  6. Go ahead and explain and evaluate any part of the Vlastos reading. You can approach this from one of two angles: either look at whether Vlastos gets Socrates' moral theory right (as an interpretation of the texts), or look at the independent strengths and/or weaknesses of the resulting position that Vlastos ascribes to Socrates.

For 1/14.

Please read Gorgias from the beginning through 486e (the end of Callicles' long speech).

Possible paper topics (these overlap to some extent; select only one):

  1. Explain the distinction between a ‘knack' and a ‘craft.' Why does Socrates say that oratory is only a knack and not a craft, and why is it shameful? Explain and evaluate what assumptions about human flourishing you think are behind what Socrates says about oratory here.
  2. Why does Polus think that a tyrant like Archelaus is happy? How does Socrates object to Polus' position (and eventually get Polus to recant his position)? Evaluate.
  3. On what grounds does Socrates argue that it's better to be caught and punished if one does wrong rather than getting away scott-free? Evaluate.
  4. Callicles distinguishes between 'natural' and 'conventional' justice. Explain the distinction in your own words and give your own evaluation of some part of what Callicles says.

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