Sample paper topics for Ancient Philosophy

Papers are due on April 21, 5-7 pages double-spaced.

Please e-mail me the topic of your paper and your thesis statement by April 14. The topic of your paper is the general area or question you'll be exploring, while your thesis is the position you'll be arguing for in that area. I have some suggested topics and sample thesis statements below.

The final paper is a position paper, in which you give arguments for a position; it is not a research paper. If you want to bring in additional material from outside the class readings, you may do so, but only if it contributes to your argument. (However, you might want to check with me to see whether the material is appropriate.) You don't need to bring in additional material, and I don't want this paper to be an exercise in finding out and explaining what other people thought about the philosophers and topics we've studied. Instead, this is your chance to give your own arguments about the material we've studied.

I want you to give your opinion. However, you need to give reasons for your opinions, and your discussion should take, as its starting point, the arguments of the philosophers we've studied this semester. In addition, it should demonstrate an understanding of these arguments.

As always, you should explain things clearly enough that somebody not already familiar with the class material, like your ignorant but intelligent roommate, would understand what you're saying. Another good technique is to try to think of possible objections to what you're saying and to reply to those objections. What would Plato, or Aristotle, or Epicurus say against you? Having an actual ignorant roommate (or a classmate) look over your paper to raise objections, and to spot obscure passages, can be very helpful.

Look at the list of reading response papers to get more paper ideas. Many of the topics listed there would be a suitable basis for a longer paper.


Socrates' arguments for how he benefits the citizens of Athens through his activity are unconvincing. Although he exposes people's ignorance, having your ignorance exposed is not beneficial.
Socrates' arguments do not show that a divine command theory of ethics is correct.

Although I am sympathetic to Aristotle's overall ethical position, I think that he is wrongly overemphasizes the value of reason when he says that the life of theoretical reasoning is the best possible life for a human being. Using Aristotle's doctrine of the "mean relative to us," I will argue that, even within a broadly Aristotelian ethics, people with different natural talents can express human excellence in many different ways, and that it would be wrong to pick out one way of life as better than all others.
Socrates' proposals to censor the stories of Homer and Hesiod are cogent.
Aristotle says that 'virtue' friendships are essential to achieving happiness, and that the highest good is your own happiness. I will argue that Aristotle's ethics undercuts itself. Thinking that your own happiness is the highest good makes it impossible to be a 'virtue' friend, and without 'virtue' friends, you cannot achieve happiness. the correct solution to this problem, I will argue, is to admit that there are things that we value, that we do not value because we think they will bring us happiness.
In this paper I will look at Plato's, Aristotle's, and Epicurus' arguments for why being virtuous is necessary for attaining happiness and argue that none of them succeed. In fact, it gets in the way of attaining happiness, because it places burdensome restrictions on doing what is necessary in order to satisfy your desires. If this is true, I argue, then one should not try to become virtuous.
In this paper, I will argue that Aristotle is right to think that teleological explanations are necessary in order to understand natural phenomena, and that Epicurus' attempt to dispense with them fails.
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