Ancient Philosophy Assignments


For 12/3 and 12/5. Readings: On-line selections from Aristotle and Cicero on Bivalence and freedom. papers (T Schabilion Short, TR Spencer, Thompso, Vogt):

Explain and evaluate one of the arguments in the readings for one of the following:

  1. (Epicurus and/or Aristotle) If all statements about what would happen in the future were either true in advance or false in advance, then deliberation and action would be in vain. Therefore, we should reject bivalnce.
  2. If the present motions of everything were determined without exception from the past motions of atoms (their weight and collisions alone), then we would be subject a fate in an unacceptable way.
  3. Having the atoms occasionally swerves helps us to escape this fate.
  4. To escape this consequence, we should posit that not all statements are either true or false.
Or, if you wish:
  1. Explain why Carneades thinks that bivlance has no fatalist consequences. Do you agree with him?
  2. Explain why Carneades thinks that not even Apollo can have knowledge of everything that will happen in the future. Do you agree with him?
  3. Explain why Chrysippus thinks that the 'lazy Argument' fails, and why not even causal determinism has fatalistic consequences. Do you agree?

For 11/21. Readings: reading response papers (Robinson Rucker):

  1. Sextus raises and tries to answer several "self-refutation" objections against the skeptic. Are these arguments and Sextus' responses to them cogent?
  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. How does the skeptic try to induce suspension of judgement? Do the argument they give seem effective for accomplishing this?

For 11/19. readings: reports on the Cyernaics from various sources (on-line at Desire2Learn), plus the Encyclopedia entry on them in the Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy. (If the link above is not working here is a cached version

papers (Reynolds Riofrio):

Explain and evaluate the Cyrenaics' arguments for one or more of their positions, such as

For 11/14

Re-read Epicurus text 4 sections 124-5, text 5 #19-21, Lucretius, book III lines 830-end, and the sections of the on-line article on Epicurus dealing with death.

Paper (Petrison, Rabia): Set out and evaluate, in your own words, one of Epicurean arguments on why death is 'nothing to us,' and why we should not fear it.



For 11/12. From the Epicurus Reader: Re-read text 4, sections 124-127 (starting on the first full paragraph on section 124), text 5, #31-40, and read 26, 54, 59, 60, 121, 124, 151, 152, 154, and the sections of the on-line article on Epicurus dealing with justice and friendship.

papers (Nichols, O'Neill): set out and evaluate, in your own words, the Epicurean position on


For 11/7. Move on to Epicurus' ethics:
Epicurus Reader, text 4 (Letter to Menoeceus), text 5 (Principle Doctrines), sayings 3, 4, 8, 18, 20, 21, 22, 23, 25, text 6 (Vatican Sayings), sayings 33, 73, texts 20, 36, 37.

On-line article on Epicurus, section on his ethics, up through and including 'types of desire.'

Paper topics (if we had one):

  1. Why does Epicurus think that only ones own pleasure has value? Give and evaluate one of his arguments.

  2. Why does Epicurus think that mental pleasures are greater than bodily pleasures? Give and evaluate one of his arguments.

  3. Why does Epicurus advocate the simple life? Give and evaluate one of his arguments.

  4. Explain Epicurus' three-fold division of desires. Do you find this division convincing? Why, or why not?


For 10/31. Reading: Lucretius, book III lines 97-176, 414-829. (And re-read selections from last time if you'd like.)

Papers (Davis Gambhir). Anything from last time we didn't cover, plus:

  1. Why do Epicurus and Lucretius think that (i) the mind must be something material, (ii) that it is an organ in the body, (iii) it cannot be something incorporeal, and (iv) death is annihilation? Explain and evaluate their arguments for any of the above claims.
  2. Explain and evaluate something else from the readings.

For 10/29.

re-read From The Epicurus Reader: texts 108, 109, 111.

From Lucretius: (The line numbers are on the tops of the pages, and there are notes in the back of the book to go along with the text you will want to look at): Book 4 lines 823-857, book 5 lines 837-878.

Possible paper topics (Cambers, Chalupova):

  1. Why do Epicurus and Lucretius think that what happens in the universe (i) is not due to the providential care or plan of any deities, and (ii) occurs because of mechanical, not teleological, processes? Evaluate their arguments for either of the above claims.
  2. Why do Epicurus and Lucretius think that the parts of animals have no functions? Why do they appear to do so? Evaluate some part of what they say.
  3. Explain and evaluate something else from the readings.
For 10/24. Readings:

On-line article on Epicurus, up through "the gods."

From The Epicurus Reader: text 2 (The Letter to Herodotus), sections 38-45, 54-55, and 60-71. Texts 14, 82, 87, 90, 108, 109, 111.

From Lucretius: (The line numbers are on the tops of the pages, and there are notes in the back of the book to go along with the text you will want to look at): Book I, lines 1-634 (pp. 19-38), Book 2, lines 81-293, 1023-end, Book 4 lines 823-857, book 5 lines 837-878.

Possible paper topics (Bishop, Bober):

  1. Why do Epicurus and Lucretius think that there must be an infinity of matter and space, and that the universe has no beginning or end? Explain their arguments, and evaluate one (or more) of them.
  2. Why do Epicurus and Lucretius think that what happens in the universe (i) is not due to the providential care or plan of any deities, and (ii) occurs because of mechanical, not teleological, processes? Evaluate their arguments for either of the above claims.
  3. Why do Epicurus and Lucretius think that the parts of animals have no functions? Why do they appear to do so? Evaluate some part of what they say.
  4. Explain and evaluate something else from the readings.

For 10/22. Read Categories 1-5, (concentrate especially on 5), and re-read and assignment for last Thursday. Paper topics(Blue, Abdelaziz) Any material from Thursday we haven't yet covered, plus the following:
  1. Look at Physics 193b35-194a20 and Categories 2a35-b6 in particular, and Aristotle's discussions of separability and substance. On what grounds does Aristotle disagree with Plato's doctrine of Forms? Evaluate what Aristotle says in these passages.
  2. What does Aristotle mean when he says that particular objects (like me and you) are "primary substances," and why does he say this? Evaluate Aristotle's position.

For 10/17.

Possible paper topics (Thompson, Vogt):
  1. What does Aristotle mean when he says that certain things (like human beings) exist 'by nature,' and why does he believe this? Explain briefly in your own words, and evaluate some part of what he says.
  2. Explain Aristotle's doctrine of the '4 causes' in your own words, and why he thinks that there 4 different types of explanation. Evaluate some part of what he says.
  3. Why does Aristotle think that teleological explanations of natural phenomena are indispensable? Explain and evaluate his arguments.
  4. Look at Parts of Animals 640b5 ff. in particular, in light of Aristotle's discussion of the four causes in the Physics. Why does Aristotle maintain that looking at the material cause alone is insufficient when trying to understand organisms, and why were the accounts of e.g., Democritus inadequate? Do you agree with Aristotle? Why or why not?

For 10/15. No new readings. Wrap up Aristotle's ethics and discuss the role of friendship in it. Papers topics (Short Spencer) from 10/10.
For 10/10. Reading Nicomachean Ethics Books 8 and 9.Possible paper topics: either those from 10/8, or the new ones below (Rucker Schabilion):
  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. Explain and evaluate any other argument Aristotle makes in today's readings.

For 10/8. Read Book II of the Nicomachean Ethics (what's in the book).

Possible paper topics (Riofrio, Reynolds)

  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.)


For 10/3. Read book I of the Nicomachean Ethics (what's in the book).

Paper topics. (Nobody assigned, but anybody who has not yet written one may do so, and will count as your first RR paper, and I will skip over you in the alphabetical order when we get to you).

  1. Why isn't having virtue sufficient for happiness (eudaimonia), according to Aristotle? (Look at chapter 5 in particular.)

  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. What *is* the relationship between virtue and happiness? (See chapters 7 and 13 in particular.) What do you think of Aristotle's arguments?


For 9/26. Read book 5 of the Republic 471c to the end, Book 6, and book 7 to 519b.

Paper topics (Rabia, Reynolds):

Anything from Tuesday we haven't yet discussed in class, or the following:

  1. Why should philosophers rule, according to Socrates? Do you agree? Why, or why not? (NB: keep in mind what Socrates says about who are the true philosophers, vs. those who are presently called philosophers.)

  2. What is the difference between the 'lovers of sights and sounds' and the philosophers? Why do the lovers and sights and sounds have only opinion and not knowledge?

  3. Why does Socrates think that knowledge of the 'form of the good' is the highest sort of knowledge?

  4. Anything else: if you wish to explain and evaluate some part of what Socrates says in the similes of the Sun or of the Line at the end of book 6, feel free.

  5. Plato uses the allegory of the Cave to illustrate the process of education. Explain how the different stages of the ascent out of the Cave relate to the segments of the divided Line (509c-511e). Plato argues that mind-independent Forms, which do not exist in the world of senses, must exist as the objects of knowledge. Why does he think this, and do you agree with him? Why or why not?

For 9/24. Re-read Book 4 of the Republic.

paper (O-Neill, Petrison)

  1. Is the ideal Republic just? Give and evaluate Socrates' arguments for why it is. What is justice (in the city), according toSocrates?
  2. What are Socrates' arguments why there are distinct parts of the soul?
  3. What is justice (in the individual), according to Socrates, and why does he say this? Is he right?
  4. Is justice an intrinsic good for you (if Socrates is right about what justice is)? Why does Glaucon think that it is? Is he right?

For 9/19. Read the rest of Book 2 of the Republic, and all of books 3 and 4, excluding 392c-412b.

Paper topics (Gambhir, Nichols):

  1. (376ff.)Why does Socrates advocate censoring the stories of Hesiod and Homer, and how does his proposed censorship relate to his educational proposals? Do you agree with his proposal? Why, or why not?

  2. 378ff: Why does Socrates' say that the stories of Hesiod and Homer are harmful lies? What argument does he give for his own conception of the gods, at 379b ff? Do you agree with his arguments? Why, or why not?

  3. (412 b ff.) How are the rulers of the cities chosen, and why? Do you agree with this method (and rationale) for choosing the rulers? Why, or why not?

  4. (414c ff.) Explain the myth of the metals. Why does Socrates propose promulgating it? Is it justified? Why, or why not?


For 9/17. Read Book 2 of the Republic, up to 369b.

Possible paper topics (Chambers, Davis):

  1. What would you do if you had the Ring of Gyges, and why would you do it? (I'm looking for a justification here, not an explanation.) If you'd choose to do something that would be considered unjust, what do you think Socrates' strongest argument against you doing so would be, based on what he says in Book I of the Republic? How would you respond to Socrates? If you would not do something unjust, what do you think Thrasymachus would say against you, based upon what he says in Book I of the Republic? How would you respond to Thrasymachus?
  2. What is Glaucon's explanation of the origin of justice, and why does he thinks that a consequence of this explanation is that justice is only a 'second best'? Is he right about how and why people invented justice, and is he right about the implications of his position?
If you wish to write on question 2 below for 9/8, you may do so.

For 9/12. Read Book 1 of the Republic.

Possible papers (Bober, Chalupova):

  1. Briefly summarize one of Socrates' objections to either the definition of justice given by Cephalus or by Polemarchus. Do you believe that Socrates' refutation is convincing? Why, or why not?

  2. Briefly summarize one of the arguments that Thrasymachus gives for injustice being more profitable, or one of Socrates' arguments for justice being more profitable. Do you find the argument cogent? Why, or why not? If you wish to, you can also give your own views about which (if either) is more profitable, and why.

For 9/10. Continue the Euthyphro, and also discuss divine command ethics. Look back over the later parts of the Euthyphro and also read the Euthyphro objection to the divine command theory. Reading response papers (Abdelaziz, Bishop): same as below, but do not write on Socrates' objections to the first two definitions.


For 9/5. Read the Euthyphro.

Reading response papers (Savannah Siniard, Alexander Verret):

(1) Look at one of the definitions of piety that Euthyphro offers, or that Socrates offers on his behalf:

Explain on what grounds Socrates objects to this definition. Do you find the objection convincing? Why, or why not?

We will probably discuss this second topic more next week, but you may write on it if you wish.

(2) Consider Socrates' objection to the following definition of piety: "What all the gods hate is impious, and what all the gods love is pious." (9d) Does his objection show that a Divine Command theory of ethics is false: that is, a theory according to which morally wrong actions are wrong because God prohibits them, and morally obligatory actions are obligatory because God commands them? Why, or why not? Defend your answer against objections. (If you write on this, it might help you to look over this summary of the 'Euthyphro objection' to the DCT.)


For 9/3. No new reading. Papers (Forrest Blue, Elizabeth Dunn)--see below for 8/25, same topics, other than the first.
For 8/29.Read the Apology (in The Trial and Death of Socrates). We'll be concentrating on the earlier sections, but please read to the end. There is no reading response paper for this day, but I will post a sample paper to the uLearn site. Please read that paper (which does not necessarily reflect my own views!) and post a response to it, of the sort outlined in the syllabus. Look at the sample reading response topics below. They will give you some things to think about, as well as an idea of what the main topics of discussion will be for Thursday.
  1. Explain and evaluate Socrates' reasons for why he isn't one of the sophists or one of the 'natural philosophers,' as the 'old accusers' claim he is.
  2. Explain and evaluate one of Socrates' arguments for why he doesn't disbelieve in the gods of the city.
  3. Give and evaluate one of Socrates' arguments for why he doesn't corrupt the young.
  4. Why does Socrates claim (in 29e-30b and in 36b-37a) that what he is doing is highly beneficial to the citizens of Athens? What is his argument (or what are his arguments) for this? What assumptions does he make? Give and analyze the cogency of Socrates' argument.

  5. In 30b and following, Socrates makes the following claims: "If they kill me, they will harm themselves more than if they harm me," "A better man cannot harm a worse man," and "I am defending myself not for my own sake but for theirs." These claims seem incredible, as Socrates well knew, and would have seemed so to the members of the jury also. Give Socrates' reasons for one of these claims (put this in your own words, as much as possible). Evaluate his arguments and his claim. (NOTE: he doesn't produce a simple argument for these claims when he makes them, but evidence for why he says these things can be found elsewhere in the dialogue, e.g., 39a-b is especially relevant.)

  6. What is Socrates' argument for why there is good reason to think that death is a blessing (in 40c and following)? Give it (in the form of a numbered argument is OK) and evaluate it.
  7. If you wish, go ahead and evaluate anything else Socrates says.



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