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The Greeks and Beyond

In this course, we’ll read some foundational works of ancient Greek philosophy, including all or part of Plato’s Symposium, Aristotle’s On the Soul, Sextus Empiricus’ Outlines of Pyrrhonism (the most important extant ancient Skeptical text), and a central Epicurean work, Lucretius’ On the Nature of Things. We’ll focus on four topics:

  1. Can I know anything? If so, what can I know and how can I know it? We’ll consider the radical Skeptical view that living without any beliefs is the only route to tranquility.
  2. Is my loving someone good or bad for me? What is it to love a person and should we have reasons for loving? What would be a good reason for loving someone?
  3. I’m now the same person as one particular baby born in the past. But there’s little if any overlap between the baby’s matter and my current matter or the baby’s thoughts and my current ones. What makes me the same person over time? Could I, say, by being run through a teletransportation machine twice, be duplicated? Once I understand what makes me the same person over time (if anything does), how should this affect how I treat others?
  4. Is my death bad for me? If so, why is it bad for me? It seems entirely obvious that, even if it’s sometimes better for me to die, my dying would in many circumstances be bad for me. We’ll consider Lucretius’ famous argument for the claim that no matter when I die–even I die “tragically early”—my death is in no way bad for me. We’ll find that Lucretius’ argument is surprisingly powerful and that it helps us understand what is good for us.

On each of these topics, we’ll devote one course meeting to reading some related modern philosophy.

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Portrait of Christopher Bubonic
Session One
Session Two