Ancient Ethics Assignments


12/3. Skepticism and piety. Reading: Harald Thorsrud's paper on skeptical piety and the selections from Sextus on the skeptics and the gods. (Thorsrud replies to Julia Annas' paper on ancient skepticism and ancient religion, just in case you feel like looking at it.) Paper (Vanderbeek). Any paper topic below that we did not get to on Tuesday, or:
  1. Sextus gives arguments that are supposed to induce suspension of judgment regarding the existence and nature of the gods. Describe and evaluate the success of his strategy.
  2. Although he suspends judgment about the gods, Sextus claims that the skeptic will live piously. Explain and evaluate Sextus' arguments for this.
  3. Thorsrud argues (against Annas) that ordinary religious believers in the ancient world do have convictions of the sort that the skeptic suspends judgment on. Explain and evaluate his argument for this.
  4. Thorsrud argues that there can be piety without belief. Explain and evaluate one of his arguments concerning this claim

12/1. Pyrrhonian skepticism:

Readings:

Possible papers (Van Fossen):
  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 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?
  3. Burnyeat criticizes the Pyrrhonian sceptic as being pathologically detached from his own mental states. Explain and evaluate some part of Burnyeat's critique.

11/19. Read the rest of "The Stoics on Fate and Freedom," plus the selections from Seneca's "On Benefits."

paper (Daniel Schwartz):

  1. Why does causal determinism and fate not undermine the appropriateness of praise, blame, punishment, and the like? Explain and evaluate Chrysippus' arguments.
  2. Why shouldn't a Stoic feel anger? Explain and evaluate.
  3. Explain and evaluate the Stoic doctrine of 'reservation,' or something else from the Seneca selections.

11/17. Read the section of Hellenistic Philosophy dealing with the Stoics on fate (starting on p. 179, going to p. 190), skipping II-76 and II-83, and concentrating on the selections from Cicero's On Fate (II-84 and II-90) plus the linked article "The Stoics on Fate and Freedom," through the section on "The Lazy Argument."

Paper (Patrick Jolley):

  1. Something on Epictetus on the death of children or another theme that we didn't get to on Thursday.
  2. 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?
  3. Explain and evaluate something else from the readings for today).

11/12. Reading: The Handbook of Epictetus. Paper topics (McGuire, Nathan).
  1. 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, how to deal with the death of family members, etc.) or one of the entries in particular.
  2. Something from Tuesday would be OK too.

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

Papers topics (Lee, Kemp):

  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. One of the possible paper topics from last Thursday that we didn't yet discuss in detail would be fine too.
11/5. Readings: We'll concentrate on the earlier parts of the Cicero. You may also find helpful the following summary of Stoic ethics.

Paper: None. But please post a question or comment regarding of the claims and/or arguments in the readings. For instance:


11/3. Readings, Tim O'Keefe, "The Epicureans on Happiness, Wealth, and the Deviant Craft of Property Management." If you wish to look at some of the ancient texts discussed in that paper, they are sections I and II of Xenophon, The Economist, Book I book of Theophrastus/pseudo-Aristotle Economics, and the photocopied selections (columns XII-XIX) of Philodemus, On Property Management.

Papers (Jeffers, Jolley). Explain and discuss one of the claims/arguments made by the Epicureans regarding wealth and/or the craft of property management. For example,


For 10/29. Justice. From Hellenistic Philosophy, text I-5, #31-40, and texts I- 151 through I-156. On Brightspace: Porphyry's report on the Epicureans on justice and animals ("porphyry-animals"), Lucretius on early humans ("lucretius-justice"). Also, John Thrasher's paper, "Reconciling Justice and Pleasure in Epicurean Contractarianism." (Optional reading: chapters 13 and 14 of my book.)

Paper topics (Goldstein, Indergand):

  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, e.g., Thrasher's claim that Epicurean contractarianism is an appealing alternative to Hobbesian contractarianism or that the Epicureans successfully reconcile individualistic hedonism with a robust account of justice.

10/27: no new readings. Papers by Byas and Gillard, on topics below.
For 10/22. The types of desires and the virtues. Readings: Cicero "On Moral Ends" book I, sections 43-64, book II, sections 44-77. From Hellenistic Philosophy, text I-5, #26, 29, 30. 31-40, and texts I-151. Also, Matha Nussbaum's article on therapeutic arguments in Aristotle and Epicurus. (Optional reading: chapter 13 of my book.)

Paper topics (Vanderbeek, Bingle):

  1. Set out in your own words and briefly evaluate one the arguments the Epicurean spokesman Torqautus gives. This can be any of them, but here are some of the topics that are especially central:
  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.
  4. Explain and evaluate something else from the readings.

For 10/20. Reading: Cicero, "On Moral Ends" book 1 section 29 through section 41, plus sections 55-57, book II sections 1-42, 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. If you wish to, you may also read chapters 11-12 of the book Epicureanism (starting on p. 111), but I won't require or expect that everyone has done so.

We'll concentrate on the Cicero material.

Paper (Schwartz, Van Fossen): 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 10/15. Book X, chapters 6-8 and Nagel's article on Aristotle on eudaimonia.

Papers (McGuire, Nathan): Pretty wide open. Any of the following:


For 10/13. Reading. Nicomachean Ethics book 6, chapters 1-8 and 12-13, and the selection by Annas on Phronesis. Paper (Kemp, Lee)

Pretty wide open. Explain and evaluate one of Aristotle's claims (or Annas'). For instance:


For 10/8. Reading: Nicomachean Ethics Books 8 and 9, and Julia Annas' paper, "Self-Love in Aristotle."

Papers (James Gillard, Patrick Jolley)

  1. 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).
  2. Aristotle claims that the person who 'sacrifices' something for the sake of his friend actually benefits himself more than he benefits his friend. Explain and evaluate his reasons for this claim. (NE 9 8)
  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 10/6. Reading: Nicomachean Ethics Book 8

Papers (Leo Feldblyum, Matt Jeffers)

  1. Aristotle claims that friendship is necessary for the good life. Explain and evaluate one of his arguments for this.
  2. 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)
  3. If something else in the readings catches your attention, feel free to write on that.

For 10/1. Read Nicomachean Ethics books III and IV, excluding book III chapters 1-5, plus Jonathan Sanford's paper, "Are You Man Enough? Aristotle and Courage."

Papers (Goldstein, Indergand):

  1. 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).
  2. Sanford argues that a (suitably modified) version of Aristotle's account of courage is correct. Explain and evaluate one of Sanford's arguments on behalf of the virtues of Aristotle's account.

9/29. No new readings or papers. Discuss NE book II. However, please post a question about the readings or a brief comment on something Aristotle (or Urmson) says in Brightspace, as a reply to my post inviting your questions.
For 9/24. Read Nicomachean Ethics book II, plus J.O. Urmson's paper, "Aristotle's Doctrine of the Mean." Papers (Bingle, Byas):
  1. 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.

For 9/22. No new readings. Papers (Van Fossen, Vanderbeek): pick one of the topics below. Read Nicomachean Ethics book II, plus IV, excluding book III chapters 1-5, plus Jonathan Sanford's paper, "Are You Man Enough? Aristotle and Courage."

  1. 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.

For 9/17. Read book I of the Nicomachean Ethics plus Deborah Achtenberg's paper "The role of the ergon argument in Aristotle's Nicomachean Ethics"

Papers (Nathan, Schwartz)

  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'). (Possibly as part of this paper, or as a separate paper, talk about Achtenberg's paper and how she thinks the function argument is supposed to proceed, and why she thinks it's plausible.)
  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 9/15. Read the rest of the Protagoras, skipping the analysis of Simonides' poem (339a-347b), and Roger Duncan's paper "Courage in Plato's "Protagoras." (If you're interested in the question of whether Socrates is advancing the hedonistic theory in the Protagoras in propria persona, you may look at Julia Annas' piece "Hedonism in the Protagoras.") Paper (Kemp, McGuire)

  1. Look at some of the dramatic back and forth between Socrates, Protagoras, and the assembled audience (and other sophists). Do you think it's making some philosophical point, and if so, what? Do you think that that point is correct? (Related to this: there is a lot of discussion between Socrates and Protogoras about how to conduct discussions, and a lot of pushing and pulling about how their discussion proceeds. What you do make of it?)
  2. Explain and analyze some of Socrates' argumentation contained in his questioning of Protagoras after Protagoras' great speech, concerning whether the virtues are separate things or not.
  3. Explain and evaluate some part of Socrates' argumentation in his denial that people are ever really overcome by pleasure, that courage is wisdom, and that we need a 'measuring art' to secure happiness.
  4. Duncan advances a theory about what is going on with Protagoras' positive position and how Socrates attempts to refute it, revolving around the role of the virtue of courage. Evaluate some part of Duncan's theory, either as (i) a way of interpreting the dialogue (does Duncan get right what's going on?) or (ii) as a piece of philosophy, prescinding from (i) (are the objections against Protagoras' theory that Duncan puts forward effective or not?)

For 9/10. Read the Protagoras through 335e. Paper (Jolley, Lee):

  1. Explain some part of Protagoras' mythical story of what virtue is, and why it's teachable. Then analyze it: does the point you're explaining seem correct, or not, and why or why not?
  2. Look at some of the dramatic back and forth between Socrates, Protagoras, and the assembled audience (and other sophists)? Do you think it's making some philosophical point, and if so, what? Do you think that that point is correct? (Related to this: there is a lot of discussion between Socrates and Protogoras about how to conduct discussions, and a lot of pushing and pulling about how their discussion proceeds. What you do make of it?)
  3. Explain and analyze some of Socrates' argumentation contained in his questioning of Protogoras after Protagoras' great speech, concerning whether the virtues are separate things or not.

For 9/8. Reading: the rest of the Gorgias, plus Gregory Vlastos' book chapter on D2L Brightspace, "Happiness and Virtue in Socrates' Moral Theory."

Possible paper topics (Indergand, Jeffers)

  1. Explain what you think the afterlife myth at the end of the Gorgias adds (or subtracts) to Socrates' case in favor of justice.
  2. 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.
  3. If we have not covered one of the topics below on the Gorgias in Thursday's class, you may write on that.

For 9/3. Reading: the Gorgias up through 522e (the start of the afterlife myth).

Possible paper topics (Gillard, Goldstein)

  1. Explain and evaluate one or more of Socrates' objections to Callicles' 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.

For 9/1.

Please read the Gorgias through 486e (the end of Callicles' long speech), and look back over Socrates' discussion with Polus.

Paper topics (Byas, Feldblyum):

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. Why does Socrates deny that a tyrant actually has great power? Explain and evaluate what he says.
  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. (Variation: how is this distinction supposed to evade Socrates' refutation of Polus? Does it do so?)

For 8/27.

Please read the Gorgias from the beginning through 481b (the end of Socrates' cross-examination of Polus).

Paper topics (Bobby Bingle; everybody else respond):

  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.

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