Ancient Ethical Theory (4030) Final, due 5/7.

Please drop off your mid-term in my mailbox (Philosophy Office, 5th floor Arts & Humanities) or e-mail it to me by 4:30, Friday May 7.

Type up the three essays below. Use these essays as an opportunity to show me how well you understand the material. In order to do this, imagine that you are trying to explain the subject to your intelligent, but ignorant, roommate. That is, state things clearly enough, explain any technical terminology, offer examples where they are needed for illustration, and expand on any cryptic or compressed remarks, so that a person not already familiar with the material would understand what you mean. By doing this, you'll show me that you understand what you're talking about.

In each of the essays below, I give a number of points that I want you to touch upon. However, please do not simply answer them one-by-one, in a disconnected, "bullet-point," choppy manner. Incorporate your discussion of each of the points within a continuous, coherent, flowing essay on the topic. They do not necessarily need to be treated in order in which I mention them.

Many of the points listed in the paper writing guidelines are also relevant for writing these essays. Make sure that you offer reasons and arguments in support of your evaluations. Maximum length per essay: 3 pages.


  1. Friendship, Egoism, and Benevolence in Aristotle and Epicurus. Both Aristotle and Epicurus think that the telos is one's own eudaimonia (or happiness), and that friendship is necessary in order to achieve happiness. In developing their theories of friendship, both Aristotle and Epicurus say things that might at first appear implausible or even inconsistent, either internally inconsistent or inconsistent with their overall ethics. Aristotle says that a virtuous person loves himself more than any other person loves himself, but that he also loves his friend for his own sake, and that the virtuous person, because he wants to achieve happiness, is willing to die for his friend. Epicurus says that (i) our friends' pleasures are not desired by us to the same degree as our own, but (ii) friendship is necessary for us to attain the greatest pleasure for ourselves, and (iii) friendship requires us to love our friends as much as ourselves, so that (iv) we do love our friends as much as ourselves, on egoistic grounds, so that we will feel exactly the same toward his friend as toward himself, exert himself as much for his friend's pleasure as for his own, etc.

    Write an essay comparing and contrasting Aristotle's and Epicurus' views on friendship, in which you explain their reasons for making the above claims. Make sure that you situate these claims within their overall ethics. Then evaluate what they say. Are their characterizations of what friendship is like correct? Are either (or both) of the theories egoistic in some objectionable way? Which theory, if either, is preferable, and why?

  2. Virtue and happiness. Briefly explain the main outlines of Stoic ethics. Touch on the following topics and the relationships between them: happiness, virtue, 'oikeiosis,' and preferred and dispreferred indifferents. Then explain how Antiochus criticizes the Stoic doctrine of 'preferred indifferents' and his alternate account, which he claims can incorporate the doctrine of oikeiosis and accomodate the notion that virtue is sufficient for happiness. Then do one of the following: (1) Say which theory you think is superior, and why, (2) evaluate the cogency of one of Antiochus' objections, (3) evaluate the justness of Cicero's charge that the Antiochean theory is internally inconsistent.
  3. Belief and tranquility. Both Epicurus and Sextus Empiricus say that the telos is tranquility (although Sextus has to say it carefully so as not to contradict himself). Epicurus, however, thinks that having correct beliefs about what is good by nature and about the way the world works is necessary in order to achieve tranquility, whereas Sextus thinks that having no beliefs at all will make one more tranquil. Explain their arguments for their respective positions, and then say which (if either) you agree with, and why.
    Return to the Ancient Ethics page.