Ancient Ethics

Phil 8030, CRN 17603
Spring 2014
F 9:30 a.m. -12:00 p.m.
Philosophy Conference Room, 11th floor 34 Peachtree

Instructor: Tim O'Keefe
Office: 1105 34 Peachtree
Phone: (404) 413-6108 e-mail: tokeefe AT gsu DOT edu
Office Hours: 10-12 M, 12-1 F, and by appointment

Course description and objectives

This course will focus on some of the ethical theories of the Ancient Greeks and Romans: Plato, Aristotle, the Epicureans, the Stoics, and Pyrrhonian skeptics. We will examine how these thinkers address the following sorts of questions: what is happiness (eudaimonia), and how does one achieve it? How does happiness relate to human nature? What is the place of other people and of friendship in a happy life? What is the relationship between happiness and virtue? What attitude should we take toward death?

Class format

This class will be seminar format, and class discussion of the readings will play a major role. In each class we'll have some members of the class contribute a short reading response paper. I will rotate the schedule of reading response papers, so that every class two or three students (typically) will submit a paper. These papers will usually involve setting out and evaluating one of the arguments in the reading for that class day. You will post this paper to the class bulletin board. Everybody will be responsible for reading the reading response papers before the class meeting and posting a reply to each of the papers, or even a reply to one of the replies.

You can post several types of replies:

  1. Clarification request. You claim p, but I don't know what you mean by saying p. Please clarify. Do you mean by this p', p''...?
  2. Argument request. You claim p. I think I know what you mean by p. But why do you claim p? I don't see any argument for p, and I think you need to give an argument for it.
  3. Objection. You claim p (and maybe you argue for it). However, I think that p, (or your argument for p), is problematic. Here's my objection to p (or to your argument for p): q. What do you say in response to q?
  4. Assistance. You claim p. I agree with you that p, but I think the following additional reason (which you do not mention) can be given in support of p: q.
  5. Competing interpretation. You say that the reading claims that p. However, I don't think that this is exactly what it says. Instead, I think it says p' (and here's why I think this).
  6. Suggestion of parallels. You claim p. P (or your argument for p) reminds me of so-and-so's claim that q (or his argument for q). Are the two really similar? Does comparing p to q help illuminate p, or is it just misleading?
Sometimes, the bulletin board may be down. If so, please e-mail me your paper or question before class. Before each class, also post one question you have regarding the material.

Typically, I will explain the material in the first part of the class, and the latter part of the class will be devoted to discussing the material, using the reading response papers and replies as a way to start the discussion. But this division is not meant to be hard and fast: discussions and evaluation will often break out during the first part of the class, and during the course of discussing the material in the second part, sometimes I may go back to clarify some points in the material.

The bulletin board, announcements, copies of this syllabus, regularly updated reading assignments, and a trove of other information is available from the course web site,


Reading response papers and participation 20%
First two paper (4-7 pages each) 30%
Final paper (15-20 pages) 50%
Important Dates (subject to change):

Tuesday February 18: First paper due
Tuesday April. 1: Second paper due
Monday May 5: Final paper due

If you will be unable to turn in a paper when it's due, please let me know beforehand and let me know why you'll be unable to turn in the assignment on time. We can arrange for an extension (although your grade may be reduced). I'm usually much more understanding of people who come to me before an assignment is due and say they'll have difficulty completing it on time than I am of those who tell me afterwards that they were unable to do it. However, if you miss the deadline for an assignment, please contact me as soon as possible to arrange to make it up. Unless there is some compelling excuse (e.g., you had to be rushed to the hospital the night before a paper was due), there will be a penalty for tardiness, and there is no guarantee that you will be allowed to make up the assignment.

You're also responsible for attending class regularly. If you know beforehand that you'll be unable to attend a class, let me know so that we can arrange for you to receive notes, discuss the material, or do anything else necessary so that you do not fall behind. If you miss a class without notification, you will still be responsible for knowing course content discussed in the class that day, learning about any announcements made in class, etc. Please turn off your cellphone before attending class. Laptops may be used only for taking notes and reading class material, not for browsing the web, doing e-mail, or playing Angry Birds.

Please also see the Philosophy department's general syllabus statement for more important information on matters such as withdrawal dates, academic honesty, etc.

Return to the course web site.
Return to the course materials index.
Return to Tim O'Keefe's homepage.