Piety and the Gods in Ancient Philosophy

Phil 4030, CRN 17582
Spring 2015
1642 25 Park Place (old Suntrust building); Classroom South 501 if 1642 is being used
4:00 a.m. - 5:15 p.m. TR

Instructor: Tim O'Keefe
Office: 1639 25 Park Place (old Suntrust building)
Phone: O: (404) 413-6108
e-mail: tokeefe AT gsu.edu
Office Hours: 2:20-3:50 TR and by appointment

Course description

The notion of divinity is central to ancient metaphysics, cosmology, and ethics. We will explore topics such as: how the theme of 'making yourself divine' functions in the ethics of Plato, Aristotle, and Epicurus; how god is said to explain the motions of the cosmos for Plato, Aristotle and the Stoics, and the Epicurean arguments against the gods having any role in the cosmos. We will also consider fate and freedom in the Stoics and Epicureans; what virtues the gods possess and which ones they lack, and the Pyrrhonian skeptics' contention that they can be pious without having beliefs.

Note: This course has as a prerequisite one course in philosophy (other than PHIL 1010) or the consent of the instructor. However, the experience in the department has been that it's usually not advisable for people to take our 4000-level classes if they've only had one previous philosophy class. If you're a philosophy major, we encourage you to take PHIL 3000 (the introductory seminar in philosophy) first before taking 4000-level classes. If you're not a major, and you've only had 1 2000- or 3000-level class, it's usually a better idea to take a 3000-level class as your second class rather than a 4000-level.

Class format

This class will primarily be seminar format, and class discussion of the readings will play a major role. You will compose two papers during the course of the semester. These papers will be position papers--that is, a paper in which you advance arguments of your own in support of a thesis related to the topics we've been studying. In order to make the process of composing the papers fruitful for you, you will be required to turn in a draft of each paper before you turn in the final version. (Failing to turn in a complete draft by the deadline will result in a penalty on her grade for the paper.) Our Writing Consultant, Zak Pearsall (zpearsall1 AT student.gsu.edu ), will give you feedback on each draft before you turn in the final version. You will also compose a mid-term and final, both of which be take-home essay format.

In each class we'll have some members of the class contribute a short reading response 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. Please post your paper the night before the class by 8 p.m. Everybody will be responsible for reading the reading response papers before the class meeting and posting a reply to one 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 before class.

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 also has a forum for posting questions about the material. If anything in the reading is unclear to you, or you have any other questions about the material, please post them in this forum. I will look over it before class.

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, http://www.gsu.edu/~phltso/ancientGodsS15.html.


Reading response papers and participation 10%
First paper (3-5 pages) 15%
Final paper (7-10 pages) 30%
Midterm exam 20%
Final exam 25%
Important Dates (subject to change):

February 4: Draft of first paper due (to writing consultant)
February 20: First paper due
March 2: Midterm exam due
April 8: Draft of final paper due (to writing consultant)
April 24: Final paper due
May 4, 5 p.m.: Final exam due

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 cell phone prior to the start of class. Laptops may be used only for taking notes or looking at pdfs posted to Desire2Learn, not for reading e-mail, browsing the web, 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.