Grad Seminar in Philosophy - Fall 2007

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Aaron Brown | Izak Dunn | Ann Foreyt | Anthony George | David Huntley

Adriana Kowal | Lisa Layera | Margaret Rankin | Rebecca Schwartz | John Stewart | Mark Alfino

Course Description

The Hellenistic period offers us centuries of practice and development of distinctive approaches to philosophy, particularly in the relationship of philosophy to everyday life. In the post-Socratic period and again after Alexander, we continue to encounter cosmologies and metaphysics – the diversity of thought in the Mediterranean at this time is astounding, but the emphasis clearly falls, for Hellenistic thinkers, on practical philosophies of the best way to live. This way of doing philosophy makes the period particularly attractive for study because many of the central topics discussed by philosophers in this period are matters of real personal concern for most people today. At the same time, recent research in economics and psychology is proving once again the contemporary relevance of these Mediterranean and Middle Eastern thinkers.

The course will give us both an overview and some in depth study of the Hellenistic Period, but our larger goal is to connect the philosophical issues and problems of this period to contemporary philosophical concerns. After an introductory period of study, students will work with the professor to choose topics and readings for presentation to the class. Some common topics will be selected to fill in around student choices.

Book List

Here's a beginning book list. I suggest we all buy:

A.A. Long & D.N. Sedley, The Hellenistic Philosophers, Volume 1, Translations of the Principal Sources, Cambridge 0-521-27556-3

A.A. Long, Hellenistic Philosophy, 2nd Edition, California, 0-520-05808-9.

Seneca, Moral Essays, Loeb Classical Library #214

Epictetus, The Discourses as reported by Arrian, Loeb Classical Library, 2 volumes

Project List

This is a rough list of topic areas which you my encounter as you begin your reading. We'll develop it in light of your expressed interests.

  1. Stoic influence on Christianity.
  2. Stoics and contemporary philosophy of emotion.
  3. Epicurus - philosophical hedonism old and new.
  4. Ancient vs. Moden Scepticism
  5. Happiness in Hellenistic Philsophy
  6. Foucault and the History of Sexuality
  7. The development of the concept of self in Roman hellenism and culture.
  8. Hellenism - East and West - before/after Alexander.
  9. Hellenistic materialism and the contemporary discussion of materialism.
  10. Hellenistic Cosmopolitanism, Religion, Naturalism
  11. Teleology across Hellenistic Philosophies: Cicero's On Ends.
  12. Epicurus' Epistemology. Early Empiricism.
  13. Spinoza and Stoics. Hadot makes this great comment in "Philosophy as a Way of Life" about Spinoze being the "theoretical discourse" for Stoicism. Might be interesting to look at that.
  14. Mindfirst Creation in Stoicism and Dennett

Recent (or not so recent) Books suggesting other topics and lines of inquiry

  1. If you want to get into issues about personal identity or epistemology, you might check out Sorabji's "Self: Ancient and Modern Insights about Individuality, Life, and Death"
  2. Sorabji also wrote "Emotion and Peace of Mind: From Stoic Agitation to Christian Temptation" which is an important exploration of some of the hardest issues in Stoic practice. His focus is on Stoic theory of emotion. It's pretty fascinating stuff.
  3. Julia Annas, "The Morality of Happiness" - This is a major historical study on Hellenistic thought. It's a good work to look at if you particularly interested in seeing how topics like happiness and ethics are more intimately related for ancients than for us.
  4. Shadi Bartsch, The Mirror of the Self: Sexuality, Self-Knowledge and the Gaze in the Early Roman Empire, is a fascinating work which explores the cultural meanings and relationship between the philosophical gaze and self-knowledge. Along the way you get treated to some interesting background on ancient optics and metaphor of the mirror in the representation of self-knoweledge.
  5. Shadi Bartsch also co-edited a collection of essays called "Erotikon: Essays on Eros Ancient and Modern". The first few of these bear on Platonic views of eros, Eros and the Roman Philosopher, and Eros in Augustine.
  6. Volumes 2 and 3 of Foucault's History of Sexuality informs a great deal of the new interpretive work on ancient culture and their concept of the self. You might want to browse these two volumes if you want topic ideas in this area.
  7. Martha Nussbaum, The Therapy of Desire: Theory and PRactie in Hellenistic Ethics, Princeton 1994. Nussbaum traces the "medical metaphors" throughout Hellenistic thought as they relate to treating "desire" as a condition. A good, somewhat long, treatment that might suggest topics related to emotion, the practice of becoming a sage, and the general meaning of "living in agreement."

Scepticism references from Routledge article on Pyrrhonism

Bibliography References and further reading

References and further reading Annas, J. and Barnes, J. (1985) The Modes of Scepticism, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. (Translation and detailed philosophical study of our sources for the Ten Modes of Scepticism.)

Barnes, J. (1982) ‘The Beliefs of a Pyrrhonist’, Proceedings of the Cambridge Philological Society 28: 1–28. (Important contribution to the debate on the liveability of scepticism; see §6.)

Brochard, V. (1887) Les Sceptiques grecs, Paris: Alcan; repr. 1923. (Old but still useful general treatment.)

Burnyeat, M.F. (ed.) (1983) The Skeptical Tradition, Los Angeles, CA: University of California Press. (Very useful collection of articles on the history of scepticism from the Greeks to Kant; includes Burnyeat’s own seminal article ‘Can the Skeptic Live his Skepticism?’)

Dal Pra, M. (1975) Lo scetticismo greco, Rome and Bari: La Terza, 2nd edn. (Very good historical survey.)

Diogenes Laertius (c. early 3rd century ad) Lives of the Philosophers, trans. R.D. Hicks, Diogenes Laertius Lives of Eminent Philosophers, Loeb Classical Library, Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press and London: Heinemann, 1925, 2 vols. (Greek text with facing translation: IX 69–116 is devoted to Pyrrhonism.)

Frede, M. (1987) Essays in Ancient Philosophy, Oxford: Oxford University Press. (Contains several essays pertaining to scepticism, including ‘The Skeptic’s Beliefs’.)

Hankinson, R.J. (1995) The Sceptics, London: Routledge. (Full philosophical treatment of the history and development of Greek scepticism.)

Sextus Empiricus (c. ad 200) Outlines of Pyrrhonism, trans. J. Annas and J. Barnes, Outlines of Scepticism, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1994. (Fine translation with introduction and notes.)

Sextus Empiricus (c. ad 200) Against the Professors, trans. R.G. Bury, Against the Logicians, Against the Physicists, Against the Ethicists and Against the Professors, Loeb Classical Library, Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press and London: Heinemann, 3 vols, 1935, 1936, 1949. (Parallel Greek text and English translation with minimal notes.)

Stough, C.L. (1969) Greek Skepticism, Los Angeles, CA: University of California Press. (Brief survey, somewhat dated.)

10 modes of scepticism from Aenesidemus

Briefly, the ten modes are as follows: (1) The feelings and perceptions of all living beings differ. (2) People have physical and mental differences, which make things appear different to them. (3) The different senses give different impressions of things. (4) Our perceptions depend on our physical and intellectual conditions at the time of perception. (5) Things appear different in different positions, and at different distances. (6) Perception is never direct, but always through a medium. For example, we see things through the air. (7) Things appear different according to variations in their quantity, color, motion, and temperature. (8) A thing impresses us differently when it is familiar and when it is unfamiliar. (9) All supposed knowledge is predication. All predicates give us only the relation of things to other things or to ourselves; they never tell us what the thing in itself is. (10) The opinions and customs of people are different in different countries. Internet Ency. On Aenesidemus

Recommended First Assignment

Try to find out a few things about the following people. You might want to do a timeline correlating some information about these figures with major events in history.

Thales of Miletus

Anaximander of Miletus

Xenophanes of Colophon








Diogenes of Sinope

Crates of Thebes




Zeno of Citium


Chrysippus of Soli

Zeno of Tarsus

Panaetius of Rhodes

Diogenes of Bablyon

Antipater of Tarsus

Posidonus of Apemen


Philo of Larissa




Pliny the Elder

Gauius Musonius Rufus



Marcus Aurelius

Diogenes Laeritius