Ancient Ethics Assignments



For 11/30 and 12/2. Pyrrhonian skepticism. Readings: Possible papers (M Hookom Lamar, W Murray Parsley:

  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 11/23. Reading Cicero On Moral Ends book 5, and Annas' chapter on Aristotelian responses from The Morality of Happiness. 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.

Papers (Gero, Glazer). Pretty wide open. Some possible topics:

  1. Look at Antiochus' version of the oikeiosis argument and evaluate its cogency.
  2. Is Antiochus right that the differences among the various schools (excluding the Epicureans) are fairly moderate and that a synthesis of them is possible, once we set aside their (mostly terminological) differences? How strong is the resulting position?
  3. Annas claims that Antiochus' position is possibly "the worst of bith worlds." What does she mean by this? Why does she say this? Is she right?
  4. Are Cicero's criticisms of Antiochus cogent?

For 11/18. Reading:
  • The Handbook of Epictetus. Also, from Hellenistic Philosophy, selections II-98, II-99 (You may also find helpful the following overview of Epictetus.

    Papers (Fox, Garland). 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 11/16. Readings:
  • From Hellenistic Philosophy: Part II (Stoics): readings 21, 22, 23: (sections 3-4, 42- 84, 147-153) 25, 26, 27, and the sections from "On Fate" (pp. 179-190). Concentrate esp. on the selections II-84, II-89, and II-90. If you want to look into some Stoic action-theory, also look at II-72 and 73. Papers (Clewell, Fischer):
    1. Lazy argument: Explain, in your own words, the 'lazy Argument" and Chrysippus' response to it (both in selection II-84). Do you think that this response works? Why, or why not?
    2. Fate and freedom: Explain and evaluate Chrysippus' arguments concerning at least one of the the following two areas: (1) How does Chrysippus try to maintain that every event is fated while still rejecting 'necessity' and allowing that certain things are still in our power? (Hint: his distinction between different types of causes is important here.) (2) Why does causal determinism and fate not undermine the appropriateness of praise, blame, punishment, and the like?


    For 11/9 and 11/11. Readings: Papers (Monday Parsley Augustin, Wednesday Baird Born):
    1. Book IV: Set out and evaluate one of Cicero's objections to the Stoics. (For his main one, about preferred indifferents and their value, bringing in Striker would be very helpful.)
    2. Striker: 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 particular aspect of the art of living (and the value of indifferents) as she describes it.)
    3. Topics from last time we haven't yet covered.

    11/4. 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 (Lamar, Murray): Set out and evaluate one of the claims and/or arguments in the readings. For instance:

    11/2. No new reading. Papers: Glazer and Hookom, from 10/28 list.
    10/28. Readings: Papers (Garland, Gero). Explain and evaluate the Cyrenaics' reason for one of the following claims: 10/26. No new reading. Go over remaining Epicurus material, especially death. Papers: Fischer and Fox.

    Any topics below not already covered, plus


    10/21. Any material not covered Monday, plus friendship and death. Readings: Matt Evans "Can Epicureans Be Friends?" ("evans-epicurean-friends"), Lucretius on the fear of death ("lucretius-fear-of-death") and Nagel on Death ("nagel-death").

    Papers (Born and Clewell): Any questions on material not covered Monday, plus:

    1. Explain and evaluate one of the three Epicurean theories of friendship presented by Torquatus.
    2. Do any of the three theories give a reason for "loving your friend as much as yourself" that is both plausible and consistent with Epicureanism? (Alternative: evaluate one of Evans' arguments for why it is consistent, and why Epicurean friendship qualifies as genuine friendship. Or examine his interpretation of Epicurus.)
    3. Anything else from the readings you wish to write on.

    For 10/19. Go over the types of desires, the virtues, and justice, (in that order). Readings: Re-read Nussbaum. From Hellenistic Philosophy, text I-5, #31-40, and texts I- 151 through I-156. From uLearn: Porphyry's report on the Epicureans on justice and animals ("porphyry-animals"), Lucretius on early humans ("lucretius-justice"), Tim O'Keefe "Would a community of wise Epicureans be just?" ("okeefe-justice").

    Possible paper topics (Augustin and Baird): Any earlier questions on material not covered last week, plus:

    1. What is justice, according to the Epicureans, and why does it arise? Do do you think this account is plausible? Why, or why not?
    2. What reason does the wise person have to be just? What about the foolish person? Are the reasons the Epicureans give for the wise person to be just compelling?
    3. Why is there no justice with regard to non-human animals? Explain and evaluate the Epicurean arguments in favoe of this thesis.
    4. Explain and evaluate something else from the readings.

    For 10/14. Reading: The rest of Cicero "On Moral Ends" books I and II. Also, the Nussbaum article on Therapeutic arguments in Aristotle and Epicurus. Also you may look over chapter 13 of my book.

    Paper topics (Murray, Parsley):

    1. Set out in your own words and briefly evaluate one the arguments the Epicurean spokesman Torqautus gives. This can be any of them, excluding the material on friendship and the material already covered, but here are some of the topics that are especially central:
      • The types of desires and the recommendations about which to cultivate and which to exptirpate.
      • The relationship between pleasure and the virtues.
      • The relationship between mental pleasures and pains and physical ones.
    2. Nussbaum expresses some objections to the Epicurean conception of philosophy as therapy. Explain and evaluate one of her objections.
    3. Cicero objects to the role of the virtues in Epicurean ethics--explain and evaluate one of his criticisms.

    For 10/12. Reading: Cicero, "On Moral Ends" book 1 through section 41, book II through section 47, plus, from Hellenistic Philosophy texts I-4 (Letter to Menoeceus), text I-5 (Principle Doctrines), sayings 3, 4, 8, 18, 20, 22, 25, text I-6 (Vatican Sayings), sayings 33, 73, texts I-20, I-36, I-37. Plus, on uLearn, Striker, "Epicurean Hedonism." Much of the Cicero stuff is in texts 21-23 in Inwwod and Gerson, but I'd prefer that you read the continuous selection on reserve. Please also read chapter 1 of my book, and it might also help (if you wish) to look at chapters 11-12 of my book Epicureanism on uLearn (starting on p. 111).

    We'll concentrate on the Cicero material.

    Paper (Hookom, Lamar): 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 10/5 and 10/7. Readings: NE book VI, book VII chapters 11-14, and Book X. Re-read Nagel, and read Annas on Aristotle on pleasure. Subjects we'll discuss (in order): pleasure, the intellectual virtues, and the contemplative life.

    Papers (Monday Fox and Garland, Wed. Gero and Glazer-for Monday please pick one of the earlier topics):

    1. Explain and evaluate one of Aristotle's definitions of pleasure.
    2. Explain and evaluate one of Aristotle's arguments for one of the following claims:
      • Pleasure is good.
      • Pleasure is (in some sense) the supreme good.
      • Pleasures differ in kind.
      • Some pleasures are bad.
      • The pleasures the good man feels are real pleasures.
    3. Explain and evaluate one of Annas' defenses of one of Aristotle's claims about pleasure.
    4. Explain and evaluate one of Aristotle's claims about the intellectual virtues. For instance:
      • The nature of any one of the intellectual virtues
      • The differences between intellectual virtues and virtues of character
      • The value of the intellectual virtues
      • Why one can have the intellectual virtues and not have the virtues of character and vice-versa
      • The relationship between prudence/practical wisdom and the virtues of character
    5. Explain and evaluate one of Aristotle's arguments in favor of happiness being contemplation.
    6. Is the sketch of happiness given here consistent, or inconsistent, with the picture of happiness given in the rest of the NE? If inconsistent, which do you find preferable, and why?
    7. Explain and evaluate one of Nagel's arguments in favor of the conception of happiness he attributes to Aristotle.
    8. Anything else from the readings.


    For 9/28 and 9/30. Reading Nicomachean Ethics Books 8 and 9, and Julia Annas' paper, "Self-Love in Aristotle."

    papers (Monday Baird and Born, Wed. Clewell and Fischer. Monday may also write on last Wed's topics for material we hadn't yet covered):

    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).
    3. 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?
    4. If something else in the readings ctaches your attention, feel free to write on that.

    For 9/23. Read NE book II, book III, chapters 6-12, and Book IV.

    Paper (Jay Wood, Michael Augistine).

    On NE III or IV: Pretty wide open. Either explain and evaluate one of Aristotle's arguments regarding the virtues of character (e.g., courage), or a stated related to a virtue of character (e.g., shame). Or, if you wish, write about what Aristotle's discussions of particular virtues reveals about the more general claims he makes regarding the vitues (in book II) or happiness (in book I).

    On NE book II and Urmson:

    1. (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?
    2. "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.)
    3. Urmson defends Aristotle's doctrine of the mean against several objections, which he says are based on misunderstandings of the doctrine; correctly interpreted, he says, Aristotle's doctrine is (more or less) right. Explain one of the things that Urmson says, and then evaluate it, with regard either to (i) whether it is a correct interpretation of Aristotle, or (ii) whether it is, in itself, correct about the nature of the virtues.

    9/16. Read book I of the Nicomachean Ethics, book X chapters 7 and 8, and Nagel's article (on uLearn).

    Papers (Matthew Myers, Stephen Parsley)

    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?

    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 whynot? 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 9/14. Reading: the Symposium, and Vlastos' article on uLearn, "The Individual as an Object of Love in Plato." Plus Donald Levy's replies to Vlastos (on JSTOR).

    Reading response paper (Leroy Lamar, Dylan Murray): any of the topics from last class, or evaluate the cogency of one of Vlastos' objections to Socrates' conception of love for the individual, especially of the sort of regard that one has for the beloved on the Symposium account of love and its role in attaining happiness (and/or Levy's replies to those objections).


    For 8/9. Reading: the Symposium.

    Reading response paper (Glazer and Hookom): pretty wide open. We'll be concentrating on Diotima's speech (as reported by Socrates). Write on one of the following general areas:


    For 8/31 and 9/2. Read the Annas and Gentzler articles on uLearn. (NB: with the Annas article, you can skim the sections dealing with the Phaedo and Republic afterlife myths: concentrate on the overall justification of the use of myth and the application of this to the Gorgias).

    Papers (Monday Ben Fischer and Keith Fox, Wednesday Melissa Garland and Jesse Gero):

    Same as for 8/26, minus the general question about the afterlife myth. And add in the Annas and Gentzler papers, same sort of question as with Vlastos: feel free to write on anything they say, either as a correct interpretation of what's going on in the text, or as the independent philosophical strengths or weaknesses of the claims they make on behalf of Plato.


    For 8/26. Reading: the rest of the Gorgias, plus Gregory Vlastos' book chapter on uLearn, "Happiness and Virtue in Socrates' Moral Theory."

    Possible paper topics (Ryan Born and Tim Clewell):

    1. 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.
    2. 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.
    3. 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.
    4. Explain what you think the afterlife myth at the end of the Gorgias adds (or subtracts) to Socrates' case in favor of justice.
    5. 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 8/24. No new readings. Papers (by Michale Augustin and William Baird) from the list below.
    For 8/19.

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

    Possible paper topics if we had them:

    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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