PHIL 611: Ancient Philosophy

For the Fall Semester 1996

Fully Categorized

Substance Quantity Quality Relation Place
A Seminar on Aristotle's Metaphysics and Ethics 3 graduate credits Excellent (sorry-best I could do) Instructor Robin Smith Blocker 506A
Time Position Habit Action Passion
Monday 6-9 PM, following this schedule Seated around a table, usuallyAlert and possessing this A research paper and two take-home assignments (details) By the time we're done, you'll be able to laugh at this

How to reach me

By e-mail:
On the web:
By voice:
(409) 845-5696
(409) 845-0458
In the mail:
Department of Philosophy
Texas A&M University
College Station, TX 77843-4237
In the flesh:
My office is in Blocker 510; I'm typically in from around 7AM until 5PM, but call first and make an appointment to be sure.


Greek Reading Group

A number of us are meeting at 9:30 AM on Tuesdays in Blocker 506A to read Aristotle in Greek, slowly. (Very slowly.) We've actually only done it once, but that makes it a tradition in Aggieland. All levels of fluency may well be represented. Here's what we're reading. If you'd like to be included, tell me.

This Syllabus was last revised October 2, 1996, as I packed my bags to leave town. (See you Monday).

Class Schedule | Grading policy | Text and readings | Course Prerequisites | Course content

Somewhat belatedly, I've updated this syllabus at least to approximate what we are actually doing in class. An added feature is a set of lecture notes; more of these will follow. I will also be adding some student versions of our classroom discussions. Watch this space.

Course Description.

This will be a seminar on the philosophy of Aristotle for MA students. Its principal subjects will be Aristotle's views on metaphysics (or, as he was pleased to call it, first philosophy) and ethics.

Text and other reading.

The principal text is this:

The Complete Works of Aristotle, Edited by Jonathan Barnes. Princeton University Press (Bollingen Series), 1984. ISBN 0-691-09950-2. Usually known as the 'Revised Oxford translation,' this is the most convenient way to get all of Aristotle's works in useable form. It costs $79, but if you have a serious interest in philosophy you should have one.

In addition, we will use:

The Cambridge Companion to Aristotle, edited by Jonathan Barnes. Cambridge University Press, 1994. ISBN 0 521 42294 9

There is a very good bibliography in Barnes. For further suggestions about translations, editions, and secondary literature, here is a little bibliography for this course (changes unpredictably).

Back to the beginning

Prerequisites, and what you need to know.

It would be a great help if you had taken an undergraduate course in ancient philosophy (such as our own PHIL 413, Classical Philosophy). I will take for granted some general familiarity with early Greek philosophy, including the Presocratics, Socrates, and Plato. No knowledge of Greek is required.

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What we'll cover.

This is intended as a graduate course in Aristotle for graduate students whose primary interest is not ancient philosophy. Accordingly, it will be somewhat broad in scope, and it won't presuppose any knowledge of Greek. We will concentrate on two broad topics in Aristotle's philosophy: ethics and metaphysics. Following an ancient tradition, we'll do metaphysics first, then ethics. Before either, we'll spend a couple of weeks going over some pervasive characteristics of Aristotle the philosopher, including concepts and procedures typical of his treatment of philosophical questions and an overview of the philosophical landscape as he sees it. To that end, we will read bits of the Physics, On Interpretation, Posterior Analytics, and Metaphysics. We will also try to set the stage with some consideration of Aristotle's relationship to Plato and a few other philosophers. I will not be overly concerned with the history of Aristotle scholarship, but I will spend a little time on the problem of just what the Aristotelian treatises are and how they might have attained their present form.

We will then turn to metaphysics-that is, to the Aristotelian treatise known to us as the Metaphysics. This is not an inconsequential point: though it looks like a Greek word, 'metaphysics' is not an expression Aristotle ever used. It is frequently (though not always) explained as a librarian's term for the collection of fourteen books (thirteen of them by Aristotle) grouped together since at least three centuries or so after Aristotle's death under the title ta meta ta phusika ('the stuff after the stuff on natural science'). In the canonical ordering of Aristotle's works since the edition of Andronicus of Rhodes (1st C. BCE), the Metaphysics comes after all the works on natural science (Physics, On the Heavens, On Generation and Corruption, On the Soul, On the Generation of Animals, On the Parts of Animals,etc.) and just before the works on ethics and politics. So much for the etymology of the word. However, that collection of books does have a common theme: Aristotle calls it 'first philosophy' . So, metaphysics is (what else?) the subject treated in Aristotle's Metaphysics. To figure out what that is, we'll study Metaphysics I (Alpha), IV (Gamma), VI-VII (Zeta-Eta), and XII (Lambda).

Having disposed of metaphysics, we will read through the Nicomachean Ethics, giving some attention also to the Eudemian Ethics. Depending on class size and sxpecific interests, we will concentrate on one or two issues particularly (two of my preferences would be Aristotle's understanding of weakness of will and the relationship between the theoretical and practical lives).

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Formal course work and grading policies.

I will expect a substantial term paper (20-30 pages). I will also be giving little take-home examinations in the middle of the course and at its end. Half your grade is based on the term paper, a fourth on the aforementioned take-home exams, and a fourth on what you do in class. (Actually, all your grade is based on each of these things, but you know what I mean.)

Academic Honesty and Its Opposite.

Academic dishonesty includes not only getting someone else to do your work (with or without their knowledge) but also knowingly doing someone else's work for them. This applies to take-home assignments as much as to in-class work. Under Texas A&M's policies, students guilty of academic dishonesty may receive lowered grades and other more severe penalties. For more details, see Section 42 of the Texas A&M University Regulations, a pointer to which would appear in this space if only they had been made available on the web, as indeed they should have been.

Back to the beginning

Schedule for the semester.

There will be no deviations from this schedule except for those which actually occur.

A little note about the books of Aristotle's Metaphysics: there are fourteen of them, one of which (the second) has since ancient times been recognized as the work of one Pasicles of Rhodes. Standard Greek practice was to use letters to enumerate the parts of a work; in the case of the Metaphysics, an early tradition grew up of calling the first book 'Big Alpha' and the second book 'Little Alpha' (nowadays usually represented with upper and lower-case letters respectively). So, the third book of the Metaphysics is called B (that's a beta, not a 'b'), and the fourteenth book is N (that's nu, the thirteenth letter of the Greek alphabet). For good or for ill, Aristotle scholars tend to use these letter designations in preference to numbers. So, if you say 'Metaphysics five' to them, they'll start counting on their fingers, mumble a bit, and then say 'Oh, you mean Delta.' Sorry. For more information about the titles of Aristotle's works, look here.

In what follows, 'CCA' = Cambridge Companion to Aristotle

Sept. 2:
First day of class: preliminaries, Aristotle's life and background
Reading, if you get to it: CCA, Introduction, Chapter 1
Sept. 9:
Second day (and week) of class:
Projected Reading: Selections from Physics II, Posterior Analytics, Metaphysics A, Parts of Animals I
Actual Reading: Categories (the whole thing), Physics II.8
Sept. 16:
Third day/week of class: What first philosophy is. Why its status is problematic for Aristotle.
Assigned Reading: Metaphysics A, Gamma, Epsilon. CCA Chapters 4, 5.
Actually Discussed: Metaphysics A.1-2, Categories 1-5, Topics I.9, I.15, On Sophistical Refutations 11, Posterior Analytics I.7-8, I.22, and some other passages. For a rambling version of what I think I said, look at this lecture on Predication and the Categories. to be followed by an account of Homonymy and the Science of Being as Being
Sept. 23:
The law of non-contradiction as the most secure of all principles.
Reading: Metaphysics Gamma, Posterior Analytics I.1-3, II.19. CCA Chapters 2, 3.
And here is an assignment: (1) write down a summary of what goes on in Gamma 1-4; (2) find three pivotal, worthwhile, interesting, perplexing, or otherwise noteworthy arguments in Gamma 4 and spell them out.
Sept. 30:
What is substance, anyway? Problems about forms, universals, thises, matter, and most especially Metaphysics Zeta
Well, actually, we had such fun discussing Met. Gamma 4 on Sept. 23 that we're going to carry that over for the first hour or so on the 30th.
Well, actually, we spent most of our time on the 30th discussing Gamma 1-4. However, I did say a word or two myself about Zeta.
Reading: Metaphysics Zeta 1-7.
Look here to find out what they're saying about Metaphysics Gamma.
Oct. 7: The Zeta problem: what is substance?
Reading: Zeta 1-7
And do this: try to figure out in some detail what goes on in Zeta 3, and write down what you figure out..

Oct. 14: Attempts at solving the Zeta problem

Reading: Metaphysics Zeta 8-17

Oct. 21: When we at last resolve, or fail to resolve, the question what substance is.

Reading: Metaphysics Zeta, all of it

And there was also the assignment of an assignment on this occasion.

Oct. 28:
Some background about the ethical treatises. The human good and what ethics is about.

Reading: Nicomachean Ethics I, CCA Chapter 7

You may also wish to complete this little exercise. Indeed, I think you should.

Nov. 4:
Aristotle's concept of a virtue, with particular emnphasis on moral virtues.

On this same day, a little exercise will have been completed.

Reading: Nicomachean Ethics I.13, II, III.5-V

Nov. 11:

Reading: Nicomachean Ethics III.1-5

Nov. 18:
The problem of weakness of will

Reading: Nicomachean Ethics VII, CCA Chapter 6

Nov. 25:
The role of reason in ethics.

Reading: Nicomachean Ethics VI

Dec. 2:
Moral vs. intellectual virtue: the 'two lives'

Reading: Nicomachean Ethics X.6-8

Dec. 9:
Another occasion of reckoning will take place about now

Dec. 10:
This day has been officially 'redefined' as Friday rather than Tuesday. Behave accordingly.

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