Ancient Ethics Assignments


Until the end of the semester:

Papers! Download the papers from WebCT, and print them out. Read them all. Compose a reading response paper on at least one (comments on more are OK).


For 3/28. Talk more about the Stoics on freedom and determinism, then move on to Pyrrhonian skepticism. 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 3/21. Readings: Papers:
  1. Epictetus: 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.
  2. 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.)
  3. 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.)
  4. 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?
  5. 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 3/14. 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 (Bolding, Christopher, Kelsey): Set out and evaluate one of the claims and/or arguments in the readings. For instance:


For 2/29.Read book II of De Finibus, the material from Lucretius on death in the course packet, Nagel's article "Death," and my article "Lucretius on the Cycle of Life and the Fear of Death," which is posted to uLearn. Main topics will be: justice, friendship, and death. For the paper, write whatever you wish on the material we're covered, evaluating some of the arguments and positions of Epicurus. So pretty wide open, once again. Some possible topics include:

For 2/22. Reading: Cicero, "On Moral Ends" Introduction, and book I. Also read from the Epicurus section of Hellenistic Philosophy text 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 20, 36, 37.

Paper (Adams, Bullock, Geever-Ostrowsky): 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 2/15. Reading Nicomachean Ethics Books 8 and 9, and Julia Annas' paper, "Self-Love in Aristotle."

papers (Slade, Strahm, Thompson):

  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?

For 2/8. Reading: NE book II, plus re-read the Nagel article and the passage from NE X.

Papers (Lucas Keefer, Ben Kelsey, and Bryan Russell):

  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 notfeel 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 afriend, 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 topay 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 overcomehis reluctance and return the money, because he knows that is what he ought to do. Which person is better? Which person is more praiseworthy? Whatwould 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 senseis 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 thisdoctrine to particular virtues.)
  3. Explain and evaluate some other claim Aristotle makes in the reading, e.g., about how to acquire the virtues.
Also, don't forget to post your paper topics and thesis statements.
For 2/1.

Read book I of the Nicomachean Ethics, book X chapters 7 and 8, and Nagel's article.

Papers (Jodi Geever-Ostrowsky, Bethanie Harsh, and Dan Issler):

  1. Why isn't having virtue sufficient for happiness, according to Aristotle? (Look at chapter 5 in particular. ) What *is* therelationship 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 1/25. Reading: the Symposium, and Vlastos' article in the course packet, "The Individual as an Object of Love in Plato."Reading response paper (Michael Bolding, Ian Dunkle, Katy Fulfer): 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 1/18.

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 (Joe Adams, Joe Bullock, Grant Christopher):

  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 1/11.

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

Possible paper topics if we had them (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 aknack and not a craft, and why is it shameful? Explainand evaluate what assumptions about human flourishingyou think are behind what Socrates says about oratoryhere.
  2. Why does Polus think that a tyrant like Archelaus ishappy? How does Socrates object to Polus' position (andeventually get Polus to recant his position)? Evaluate.
  3. On what grounds does Socrates argue that it's betterto be caught and punished if one does wrong rather thangetting away scott-free? Evaluate.
  4. Callicles distinguishes between 'natural' and'conventional' justice. Explain the distinction in yourown words and give your own evaluation of some part ofwhat Callicles says.

Return to the course web site.
Return to the main page.

Send e-mail to tokeefe AT gsu DOT edu.