Ancient Ethics Assignments


For 11/29 and 12/1. Pyrrhonian skepticism.

Readings:

Possible papers - we'll probably discuss the Burnyeat on Thursday:

  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 11/17. 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. Paper:
    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 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 11/15. Reading:
  • The Handbook of Epictetus. Also, from Hellenistic Philosophy, selections II-98, II-99, the paper by Long on Epictetus on the emotions, and the following overview of the Stoics on the mind and the passions.

    Papers. 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 comment on the plausibility of the Stoic theory of the emotions, as set forth by Long or the webpage. (You can concentrate on one of their claims in particular and evaluate it if you wish.)




    11/10. Readings: Book 4 of Cicero's On Moral Ends, and Striker's article on Antipater on the Art of Living.

    Papers:

    1. Book 4: 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.

    11/8. Reading: 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:


    11/3. Readings: Papers: Explain and evaluate the Cyrenaics' reason for one of the following claims: 11/1. Reading: Lucretius on the fear of death ("lucretius-fear-of-death") and Nagel on Death ("nagel-death").
    10/27. Any material not covered Tuesday, plus friendship. Readings: Matt Evans "Can Epicureans Be Friends?" ("evans-epicurean-friends"), and re-read the material on friendship at the end on On Ends, plus Cicero?s criticisms of the Epicureans on this topic (DF I 65-70, DF II 78-85) Papers:
    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. Explain and evaluate one of Cicero?s criticisms of Epicurus on friendship.

    For 10/25. No new reading; re-read Nussbaum. Continue discussion of justice; move back to Nussbaum and the virtues.

    Papers:

    1. What is justice, according to the Epicureans, and why does it arise? 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 favor of this thesis.
    4. Nussbaum expresses some objections to the Epicurean conception of philosophy as therapy. Explain and evaluate one of her objections.
    5. Cicero objects to the role of the virtues in Epicurean ethics--explain and evaluate one of his criticisms.
    6. Explain and evaluate something else from the readings.

    For 10/20. Go over the types of desires, the virtues, and justice, (in that order). Readings: 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"). You may also (if you wish) look over chapter 14 of my book.

    Possible paper topics: Any earlier questions on material not covered by Tuesday?s class, plus:

    1. What is justice, according to the Epicureans, and why does it arise? 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 favor of this thesis.
    4. Explain and evaluate something else from the readings.

    For 10/18. 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:

    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 extirpate.
      • 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 10/13. 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." 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: 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 10/11. Read Hal Thorsrud?s paper on what is human in Aristotle?s Ethics. Paper: Pretty wide open. Feel free to evaluate either, (i) Thorsrud's interpretation of one of the two accounts by Aristotle of human nature (and hence of human flourishing) quainterpretation of Aristotle, (ii) the strengths or weaknesses of either (or both) of these accounts qua accounts. You can also write on (iii) which of the two accounts you find preferable (and why), or (iv) Thorsrud's contention that Aristotle was right to be conflicted about our nature nad hence to advance inconsistent accounts of our flourishing.
    For 10/4 and 10/6. Readings: NE book VI and Book X chapters 6-9. Read Nagel. Subjects we'll discuss (in order): the intellectual virtues, and the contemplative life.

    Papers (for Tuesday we'll please pick one of the earlier topics):

    1. 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
    2. Explain and evaluate one of Aristotle's arguments in favor of happiness being contemplation.
    3. 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?
    4. Explain and evaluate one of Nagel's arguments in favor of the conception of happiness he attributes to Aristotle. (Alternatively, evaluate whether Nagel's reading of Aristotle is correct.)
    5. Anything else from the readings.

    For 9/27 and 9/29. Reading Nicomachean Ethics Books 8 and 9, and Julia Annas' paper, "Self-Love in Aristotle."

    papers

    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 catches your attention, feel free to write on that.

    For 9/20 and 9/22. Read NE book II, book III, chapters 6-12, and Book IV, plus the paper by Urmson on the mean.

    Paper.

    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 virtues (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.

    9/15. Read book I of the Nicomachean Ethics.

    Papers (Ben Stanford, Huong Tran)

    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 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').
    4. Why does Aristotle think that one?s happiness can be effected by events that occur after one?s death (like misfortune befalling one?s children)? Is he right?

    For 9/13. Reading: re-read 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 (Pierce Randall, Nick Roberson): any of the topics from last class that we haven?t yet covered, 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 9/8. Reading: the Symposium, and Vlastos' article on uLearn, "The Individual as an Object of Love in Plato."

    Reading response paper (Cami Koepke, Reynolds Patterson): pretty wide open. We'll be concentrating on Diotima's speech (as reported by Socrates). Write on one of the following general areas:


    For 9/6. No new reading. Paper topics (Zach Hopper), same as from 9/1 (but something on Callicles would be nice)

    For 9/1. Reading: the rest of the Gorgias, plus Gregory Vlastos' book chapter on uLearn, "Happiness and Virtue in Socrates' Moral Theory."

    Possible paper topics (James DiGiovanni)

    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 8/30. No new readings. Papers (by Eva Chi and JP Messina) from the list below.

    For 8/25.

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

    Paper topics (Kathryn Joyce):

    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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