Method and Theory in Classics
Session 16: Philosophy 1
In the textbook chapter 12 ‘Philosophy’ (which is generally a fine
introduction) you may wish to pay particular attention to pages 146 to 152,
on ‘the schools of ancient philosophy’ and ‘the major subjects’.
To the ‘major resources’, it is probably still worth adding W. K. C. Guthrie’s
History of Greek Philosophy (in 6 volumes from 1962 onward; though note
that volume 3 The Fifth-Century Enlightenment was also later (in 1971)
published in two shorter volumes, on The Sophists and Socrates). Much
shorter, but accessible and still useful, introductions to Plato and Aristotle
were published by Oxford University Press in their Past Masters series in the
early 1980s, by Richard Hare and Jonathan Barnes respectively. Similar in
scope, but more recent, are OUP’s Very Short Introductions to Ancient
Philosophy; Plato; (both by Julia Annas) and Aristotle (Barnes again).
5 -century Athens has an important part to play in the story of ancient
philosophy, as it did with history, partly because Athens’ size and wealth as
an imperial capital tended to attract intellectual figures (known collectively
now as the ‘sophists’) from across the Greek world, but also because one of
the city’s own citizens, Socrates (469-399).
Famously, Socrates himself produced no written works, but those of
his associates and (especially Plato) were numerous and have been
enormously influential – to the extent that all earlier Greek
philosophers have been labelled ‘pre-Socratic’ (page 146 in the
textbook neatly describes the sheer range of people included under
this umbrella term).
o Plato has dominated our knowledge of Socrates, but there were
many other ‘Socratic’ writers in the 4 century – though the only
one whose works survive intact is Xenophon. Note these writers’
use of another new prose genre, the dialogue. At its most
basic, a dialogue is (or rather claims to be...) just a verbatim
record of a conversation between two or more people; in Plato
and Xenophon’s philosophical works, one of the interlocutors is
usually Socrates himself. Xenophon however wrote in several
other genres too.
Plato founded a philosophical ‘school’ called the Academy, na