Aristotle Assignments


For 4/25 and on: NE book III, chapters 6—9, Book IV, chapters 3-9, book VI, Book X, chapters 6-end. 6020 paper: John Ranta.
For Monday 4/18, Wed 4/20. Reading Nicomachean Ethics Books 8 and 9, and Julia Annas' paper, "Self-Love in Aristotle."

Note: The Ackrill book is missing much of books 8 and 9, but there is a decent translation available here.

Papers: 6020 Jacob Meyer, 4020, discontinue the papers. But think about the following questions:

  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 4/11 and 4/13. Reading: NE book VII chapters 11-14, NE book X chapters 1-5, and Julia Annas, "Aristotle on Pleasure and Goodness." Papers, 6020 Vincent Gray, 4020 Michael Moore Mon., Myrna Richmond Wed.

  1. Explain and evaluate one of Aristotle's arguments for one of the following claims:
  2. Explain and evaluate one of Aristotle's definitions of pleasure.
  3. Explain and evaluate one of Annas' defenses of one of Aristotle's claims about pleasure.

For 4/4 and 4/6. Reading: NE book VII chapters 1-10, and Burnyeat on Aristotle on learning to be good (in the packet). Papers: Delmas 6020, Goodson, McWhorter 4020.

Topic is pretty open: explain and evaluate some part of what Aristotle says in the reading, e.g.,


For 3/28 and 3/30. Reading: Nicomachean Ethics Book III, esp. chapters 1-5, plus the reading by Bostock on the course packet.

6020 paper, Anthony Carreras, 4020 papers, Thomas Georginakis Mon., Daniel Hampikian Wed.

  1. Explain & summarize, in your own words, the basic idea behind Aristotle's definition of what is voluntary in NE III 1. Why does Aristotle think that "pleasant things and fine things" do not force us to do what we do? (And what does this mean?) Does Aristotle's definition appear correct? (Some additional questions to think about, or write on: Can you think of any counterexamples to this definition? Does Aristotle's definition seem compatible, or incompatible, with causal determinism?)
  2. Explain and evaluate one of the 'excusing conditions' Aristotle discusses in NE III 1.
  3. In NE III 5 Aristotle says that "[since] we cannot refer actions back to other principles beyond those in ourselves, then it follows that whatever has its principle in us is itself up to us and voluntary," and he supports this conclusion by pointing to practices of punishment. However, as Aristotle notes, it might be objected that (i) one's actions are the inevitable outcome of one's character, and (ii) everybody aims at what appears good to him, and a person does not control what appears good to him; instead, his character controls what appears good to him. How does Aristotle respond to these objections? Does Aristotle's response appear adequate? Why or why not? (Additional possible qeuestion to think or write about: do you think his response is compatibilist, or libertarian, or neither?)

For 3/21 and 3/23. Read Nicomachean Ethics, book II, and Urmson's article in the course packet on the mean.

Papers: (6020 Will Allen on book I, 4020 Sara Case Monday, Josh Fauver Wed.):

  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.)
  3. Urmson defends Aristotle's doctrine of the mean against several objections, which he says are based on misunderstandings of the doctrine; correctly interpreted, he says, Aristotle's doctrine is (more or less) right. Explain one of the things that Urmson says, and then evaluate it, with regard either to (i) whether it is a correct interpretation of Aristotle, or (ii) whether it is, in itself, correct about the nature of the virtues.


For 3/14. Read book I of the Nicomachean Ethics and Irwin's article on Aristotle and Solon.

Papers (6020, John Ranta on De Int. 9; Monday, Myrna Richmond, Wed. Eli Banks):

  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').
  4. Why does Aristotle think that post-mortem events can have an impact on one's happiness, contra Solon? Explain and evaluate what he says. For 2/28 and 3/2. Readings: Aristotle, On Interpretation chapter 9 and Sorabji's article on Tomorrow's Sea Battle. (Also, quickly skim through the previous chapters of On Interpretation to get a sense of the context. For Wednesday's class, I will probably give you some additional, later responses to the fatalist argument presented in De Int 9.)

    Papers (Colin Mee Monday, Michael Moore Wed., Jacob Meyer for 6020):

    1. Briefly explain the fatalist argument presented in de Int 9: why do unacceptable consequences follow from the universal applicability of the Principle of Bivalence, and what are these consequences? How does Aristotle rebut the fatalist? Do you agree that these unacceptable consequences follow from the Principle of Bivalence?
    2. Explain in what sense Sorabji thinks my actions can have an effect on the past, and why he thinks this. Do you agree with his position and arguments?
    Possible additional papers for Wed.:
    1. Explain why Carneades thinks that PB 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 'Idle Argument' fails, and why not even causal determinism has fatalistic consequences. Do you agree?

    For 2/23. Read On The Soul, Book III, chapters 3, 4 and 5.
    For 2/21 (and 2/23). Readings:

    On the Soul, Book I; Book II, chapters 1-4, 12. Note: not all of book I is in the Ackrill reader, so please go to here in the Internet classics archive to read the parts of book I not in the reader. Also, most of book I deals with Aristotle's criticisms of past theories. I think that this is important, but it is rather obscure; more central will be the positive discussions of Aristotle's own theory, which are contained in the selections in the Ackrill book. Also read Irwin, "Aristotle's philosophy of mind," from the course packet. We may go on to some additional readings for Wed., but probably not.

    Papers (Dan Hampikian for Monday, Ryan McWhorter for Wed., Vincent Gray for 6020 Monday [write on the Posterior Analytics]):

    1. In your words, explain why Aristotle criticizes Plato's doctrine that the soul is separable from the body (related to this would what Irwin calls Aristotle's criticisms of dualism). 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. He also has criticisms of Democritus in many parts of Book I, plus discussion of reductive materialism in Irwin.)
    3. Aristotle defines the soul as the 'first actuality of a natural body which has life potentially.' (DA II 1 412a) What does this mean? Does it seem reasonable?
    4. Irwin claims that Aristotle's view is "properly described as a form of functionalism." Briefly describe why Irwin thinks this, and then either discuss whether (a) Irwin is right to characterize Aristotle's view in this way, or (b) what you take to be either some strong points or problems with the particular version of functionalism that Irwin ascribes to Aristotle.

    For 2/14 (and 2/16).Readings:

    The selections from Posterior Analytics in the Ackrill reader (Posterior Analytics I 1-4, 10, 13 II 1-2, 8-10, 12, 19), and R.J. Hankinson, "Philosophy of Science" in the course packet; concentrate especially on the first few pages (through p. 113), but read the whole thing.

    Papers: for Monday, Thomas Georganakis, for Wed., Mark Goodson. (Later topics are more likely to be on topics we will cover on Wed.). In 6020, Candice Delmas; please write on one of the topics for last week's readings (Aristotle's cosmology).


    For 2/9. Continue Aristotle's cosmology. No new reading. Paper: John Beasley. See below for topics, minus the first two.
    For 2/7 (and 2/9).Readings for next week:

    Aristotle's cosmology. We'll spend the beginning of the class period Monday continuing the discussion of Metaphysics Epsilon, and the rest of the week on the material below. Read all of the selections from On the Heavens (aka De Caelo) in the Ackrill reader, i.e., DC I 2, 9, 10 (281b3-33), II 12 (292a10-b25), III 6, and the paper "Aristotle's 'Cosmic Nose' Argument for the Uniqueness of the World," that I e-mailed you.

    Papers: for Monday, Joshua Fauver, for Wed., John Beasley. (Later topics are more likely to be on topics we will cover on Wed.).

    Explain and evaluate one of Aristotle's arguments in the readings, for the positions described below. Since Aristotle's cosmology has been falsified, try to be charitable: are there points he makes in the course of his argumentation that hold up or are worthwhile, even if his conclusions are not acceptable? You can also approach these topics by trying to talk about how what Aristotle says in his cosmology sheds light on the other parts of his philosophy we have studied thus far, or contradict/stand in tension with other areas of his philosophy.


    For 2/2. Readings: Metaphysics Epsilon (VI), Physics II 4-6, short selection of mine on aitia, arche, and the coincidental that I e-mailed you. NB: some of the material from Monday we'll also be discussing.

    Paper topics:



    For 1/31. Readings: we'll mainly continue the discussion of the Physics and Parts of Animals. In addition, however, please also read the short e-mailed thing from me on parts and wholes in Aristotle and Epicurus, plus the selection from Lucretius' De Rerum Natura on Epicurean evolutionary theory.

    That will be what we'll mainly discussing. However, please also read ahead in the following (which we'll be discussing Wed., and at the end of class Monday if time permits): Metaphysics Epsilon (VI), Physics II 4-6, short selection of mine on aitia, arche, and the coincidental that I e-mailed you.

    Papers (Case, Sarah E., and Michael Holt for 6020--for 6020 see previous topics):

    The following paper topics are for Wed.:
    For 1/26.

    No new readings. Possible paper topics (pick one, Laura Falley):

    1. Why does Aristotle think that teleological explanations of natural phenomena are indispensable? Explain and evaluate his arguments.
    2. 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?
    3. Something else Aristotle or Furley says about teleological explanations: explain and evaluate.

    For 1/24.

    Possible paper topics (pick one, although earlier would be better, Eli Banks):
    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.
    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 1/19. No new reading. Reading response paper topics, pick one (Mark Arkanum):
    1. Aristotle says that he can refute the person who denies the PNC if the person simply 'says something.' Explain how this refutation is supposed to work, and say whether you think it does work.
    2. Aristotle says that the fact that supposed deniers of PNC can act shows that they really believe PNC. Explain and evaluate his argument.
    3. Lear considers the question of whether Aristotle's argument for PNC is question-begging. Briefly explain why you think Aristotle's argument either is or is not question-begging, and, if it is, whether it's question-begging in an unacceptable manner.
    4. Explain and evaluate somethiong else Aristotle says about PNC.
    Everyone except Mark: please remember to post a response to his paper.
    For 1/12.

    Please read the selections from Metaphysics Alpha (chapters 1-2), Beta (chapter 1), and Gamma (chapters 1-3, chapter 4 1004b35-1006a28, 1008b2-1009a5, chapter 5 1009a6-16, 1010b1-29) in the Ackrill book, plus the selection from Jonathan Lear in the course packet. Post a question about the material on the course bulletin board.


    For 1/10. Please read Jonanthan Barnes' introduction to the life and writings of Aristotle, available in the course packet.
    Return to the course web site.
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