Ancient and Medieval Philosophy Assignments


For 5/3. Human law. Readings Papers (Guimarin, Micah A.; Head, Jeziah E.; Mullnix, Melissa C.; Robinson, Broderick J.; Spangler, Jaye M.; Sponsler, Sandy M.):

In your own words, lay out one of the objections that Aquinas considers and his reply to it. Do you find his reply convincing? Why, or why not? (Alternative: simply analyze one of Aquinas' main arguments in the sections that start with "I answer that...") This is obviously pretty wide open, and feel free to choose what you wish, including readings from last Wednesday you have not yet gone over. But some questions I'm particularly interested in are:


For 4/28. Reading: The theological virtues and law. Paper (Ajibesin-Fraser, Tanya P.; Ashmore, Holly M.; Bryant, Robert C.; Davis, Julian W.; Erickson, Victoria M.; Ghattas, Kamal I.): In your own words, lay out one of the objections that Aquinas considers and his reply to it. Do you find his reply convincing? Why, or why not? (Alternative: simply analyze one of Aquinas' main arguments in the sections that start with "I answer that...") This is obviously pretty wide open, and feel free to choose what you wish. We might not get all of the way through to the natural law, so perhaps writing on something in Q 94 wouldn't be best, but one of the earlier questions.

NOTE: The articles start with a series of objections to the position Aquinas himself wants to argue for. Then Aquinas gives a chocie quotation, an argument for his own position, and then replies to the objections with which he started.


For 4/24. Readings from Aquinas, Summa Contra Gentiles, book III, "God the End of Creatures." Chapters 2, 3, 16, 17, 18, 19, 20, 24, 25, 34, 37, 38, 39, 40, 47, 48, 61.

(If you don't want to click on each of the links above to individual chapters, go to here for the table of contents of the Summa Contra Gentiles and scroll down to Book III. You may also want to do this if you'd like to see what some of the surrounding chapters are that we're skipping. Some of those might be useful to look at to answer some of your questions.)

Paper (Ojewole, Rittenhouse, Scaefer, Smoot, Sorrell, Tucker):

Lay out and evaluate Aquinas' argument for one of the following:

One useful way of approaching the above questions is to see Aquinas as working within a basically Aristotelian metaphysical and ethical position but still wanting to maintain the centrality of an afterlife in attaining happiness.

For 4/17.

Reading: From Against the Academicians: Editor's introduction, description of academic skepticism on pp.34-38 (section 2.4.10 through 2.5.13); criticism of: following the 'truthlike" p. 41 until 2.7.18 on p. 42 and 2.7.19 on p. 43 until 2.8.20 on p. 44; main arguments of Augustine, p. 64 (section 3.7.14) - end, Appendices 5, 6, 7, 8.

If you want more background on ancient skepticism, you can read the IEP article on the topic through "On suspending judgement" in the section on Arcesilaus.

Paper topics (Lafave, McKay, Miller, Noell, O'Leary):

  1. Evaluate one of the arguments that Augustine gives against the Academic skeptics. These include:
  2. Why does Augustine think that it's necessary to fight against the skeptic? Explain and evaluate his reasons.
  3. Explain and evaluate Augustine's argument that he does know that he is alive. (in Appendix 6 and 8). Does it succeed? Why or why not?
  4. In appendix 6 and 8, Augustine claims that he knows many other (in fact, an infinite # of) things, in addition to knowing that he is alive. Give and evaluate his argument.
  5. In appendix 7, Augustine explains why he thinks it's necessary (as a Christian) to oppose the academic skeptics. Explain and evaluate his argument.
  6. Imagine somebody who says: 'I'm a rational person. Before I believe anything, I need to be given good reasons for why I should believe it. Simply to believe something on the say-so of some person (or institution), before I have good reasons myself to believe that thing, would be epistemically irresponsible.' How would Augustine respond to this person? Look at the photocopied selections , and discuss and evaluate what Augustine has to say about one or more of the following: why (and when) it is rational to submit to authority, why Augustine thinks that, in belief in general, reliance on authority is needed, and why it is necessary (and reasonable) to submit in particular to the authority of Church in religious doctrine, and what Augustine means when he says "I believe so that I may understand."

For 4/12. Readings: Papers: Gray, Susan D.; Hand, Jameson A.; Hinton, Carlin; Horwitz, Vicki S.; Kerner, Peter M.
  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 4/10.

Paper (Buning, Burns, Cole, Coursey, Dhanani): Lay out and analyze one of the Epicurean arguments against the fear of death. Or, if you wish, lay out and analyze one of the related claims made in the readings for today. Re-read text text I-4, sections 124-127 (starting on the first full paragraph on section 124), text I-5, #31-40, and read I-26, I-54, I-59, I-60, I-121, I-124, I-151, I-152, I-154, Lucretius, book III lines 414-829, and the sections of the on-line article on Epicurus dealing with justice, friendship and death.

Paper: set out and evaluate, in your own words, the Epicurean position on

or some aspect of their position in the above areas.
For 4/5. Readings:

Move on to Epicurus' ethics:
From Hellenistic Philosophy: I-4 (Letter to Menoeceus), I-5 (Principle Doctrines), I-6 (Vatican Sayings), I-20 through 25, I-36, 37, 45, 48 through 51, I-59, I-61.

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

Possible paper topics (Sponsler, Abolins, Austin):

  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 3/29. Reading: Lucretius, book III lines 97-176, 414-829. (And re-read selections from last time if you'd like.)

Possible papers Mullnix, Robinson, Spangler):

  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, as Plato thought, and (iv) death is annihilation? Explain and evaluate their arguments for any of the above claims.


No new assignment for 3/27 - continue on Epicurus' metaphysics.
For 3/22. Reading:

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

From Hellenistic Philosophy: Introductory Readings: I-2 (The Letter to Herodotus, p. 5 ff.), sections 38-45, 54-55, and 60-71. I-14, I-82, I-87, I-90, I-108, I-109, I-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 (Ghattas, Kamal; Guimarin, Micah; Head, Jeziah):

  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 does Lucretius think that atoms must swerve to the side occasionally? Explain his arguments, and evaluate one of them.
  3. 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.

For 3/20. Reading Nicomachean Ethics Books 8 and 9.

Possible paper topics: (Robert Bryant, Julian Davis, Victoria Erickson):

  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).

For 3/15. No new readings. Re-read Book II of the Nicomachean Ethics (what's in the book).

Possible paper topics (Ajibesin-Fraser, Tanya; Ashmore, Holly.):

  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 3/13. Read Book II of the Nicomachean Ethics (what's in the book. We'll also discuss the material from Book I we didn't cover in class Wed.

Possible paper topics (none assigned, but this will give you an idea of what we'll be covering):

  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. Explain and comment on Aristotle's own conception of what eudaimonia is (based upon the notion of there being a human 'function').
  3. Why does Aristotle think that post-mortem events can effect your happiness? Explain and evaluate his arguments.
  4. (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?
  5. "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 3/1. Read book I of the Nicomachean Ethics (what's in the book).

Possible paper topics (Kerner, Sorrell, Tucker):

  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').


For Monday 2/27. Read De Anima, Books 1 and 2, (up through chapter 4 in Book 2). Re-read the selections from the Physics and Parts of Animals.

Papers (Kristen Rittenhouse, Scott Schaefer, Kyle Smoot)

  1. In your words, explain why Aristotle criticizes Plato's doctrine that the soul is separable from the body. Do you agree with Aristotle's arguments for why the soul is not separable? Why or why not? (See, in particular, DA Book I, chapter 1; 403a2-b20, book 1, chapter 3, 407b13-25, and book II , chapter 1, 412b5 ff.)
  2. In your own words, explain why Aristotle criticizes those, such as Democritus, who identify the soul as being a body, e.g., a group of atoms in the chest. At the same time, Aristotle wants to say that the soul is not a separable, incorporeal thing. Do you agree with his criticisms? Why, or why not? (See, in particular, DA Book II, chapter 1, 412a12-413a2 and 415b10 ff., and Parts of Animals 640b6-641b10.)

For Monday, 2/13. Read, from the Aristotle book: Papers (Rob Noell, Kaitlin O'Leary, Adedej Ojewole)

Paper #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.

Paper #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.

paper #3. Why does Aristotle think that teleological explanations of natural phenomena are indispensable? Explain and evaluate his arguments.

Paper #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 Monday 2/2. Read the Theatetus up until 171d. We'll also finish up the Phaedo.

Papers (Hinton, McKay, Miller):

  1. Briefly explain why Protagoras' position seems to deny that any person is wiser than another. How does Protagoras respond to this charge (in his 'defense'), and how does Socrates try to rebut this defense? Do you think that this charge against Protagoras (that his position entails that there are not differences in wisdom) is cogent, or not?
  2. Reading: Th. 170a-171d. Protagoras says that "man is the measure of all things," and this Protagorean position eventually gets fleshed out as "things are for every man what they seem to him to be." Why does Socrates think that this position contradicts itself? Do you agree with Socrates? Why, or why not?

For Monday 1/30. Read the rest of the Phaedo. Possible paper topics (pick one) Vicki Horwitz, Thomas Kirby, Jayne Lafave.
  1. (reading Phaedo 96b-99d): Why does Socrates say that the explanations given by the 'wisdom they call natural science' are inadequate? (BTW, Socrates most likely has in mind here the sort of explanations of natural phenomena given by the pre-Socratics.) What sort of explanations would be more adequate, according to Socrates, and why? Do you agree with Socrates that explanations of 'natural science' (as Socrates uses the term) are inadequate in the case of (1) natural phenomena like the position of the earth, and (2) human action, like Socrates sitting and talking to his friends in prison? Why or why not?

  2. (reading Phaedo 80c-84a and 107c-115a): Briefly give, in your own words, the main upshot of Socrates' myths about the fate of the soul with regard to (1) how one ought to live one's life, and (2) how these recommendations about how to live one's life are connected with the afterlife one will have. Think about the following questions: (1) Is virtue an instrumental or intrinsic good, according to Socrates' account? (2) How do the myths of the Phaedo relate to what Socrates says in the Crito? (3) Do you have any objections to Socrates' recommendations?

For Wednesday 1/25. Read the Phaedo through 95. Possible paper topics (pick one) John Buning, Jameson Hand, Carlin Hinton

Discuss and evaluate one of the following arguments:

  1. The Affinity argument for the immortality of the soul.
  2. The discussion of the fate of the soul as dependent on the type of life it has led
  3. Simmias' "harmony" theory of the soul, as an objection to Socrates' affinity argument.
  4. One of Socrates' objections to the harmony theory.

For 1/23. No new reading; look back over the Phaedo until 77a.

Reading response papers (Cole, Coursey, Gray)

  1. Why does Socrates say that (i) philosophy is training for dying, and that (ii) the body is an obstacle to attaining knowledge? Explain and evaluate Socrates' arguments for (i), or (ii), or both.
  2. Explain and evaluate one of the arguments Socrates gives for the immortality of the soul.

For 1/18. Finish discussion of the Crito, go on to the Phaedo. Read the Phaedo up until 77a. However, the reading response paper will cover 64-68.

Possible reading response papers, pick one (Brian Abolins, Benjamin Austin, Amy Burns):

  1. Briefly explain, in your own words, Socrates' main argument for why it would unjust for him to escape from prison. (49e ff.) Do you agree with him or not? Why, or why not?
  2. Explain and evaluate one of Socrates' other arguments for why it would unjust for him to escape from prison.
  3. Why does Socrates say that (i) philosophy is training for dying, and that (ii) the body is an obstacle to attaining knowledge? Explain and evaluate Socrates' arguments for (i), or (ii), or both.
  4. Explain and evaluate one of the arguments Socrates gives for the immortality of the soul.

1/11. Read the Crito.
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