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PHILOS 2P03 Ancient Greek Philosophy

Academic Year: Fall 2015

Term: Fall

Day/Evening: D

Instructor: Prof. Mark Johnstone


Office: University Hall 307

Phone: 905-525-9140 x 23461

Office Hours: 9:00 - 10:00am and 1:00 - 2:00pm or by Appointment

Course Objectives:

Course Description

This course is an introduction to ancient Greek and Roman philosophy. For the most part, we will concentrate our attention on the three great figures of the classical period: Socrates (469-399 BC), Plato (427-348 BC), and Aristotle (384-322 BC). By reading carefully chosen selections from the original writings of Plato and Aristotle, we will seek to understand the views of these thinkers on a range of topics, including the nature of the soul and its relation to the body, the acquisition of knowledge and wisdom, causation and explanation in natural science, and the good life for human beings. In the final part of the course, we will briefly consider the views of the two most prominent and influential philosophical movements of the Hellenistic period – the Epicureans and the Stoics – on such topics as: the fundamental constitution of reality, the nature of the gods, the nature of the emotions, the proper attitude towards death, and the roles of pleasure and virtue in human happiness. All texts will be read in translation, and no prior knowledge of ancient philosophy will be presupposed.



There will be two 50-minute lectures every week and one 50-minute tutorial (maximum 25 students). Required readings will be moderate in length, averaging around 20 pages per week in total, but some of the material will be challenging and will require re-reading. Assessment will consist of two short essays (maximum 1500 words), a final exam, and attendance and participation in tutorials (details provided below).


By the end of this course, you should possess a broad, basic familiarity with the most major figures, schools and movements of philosophy in the ancient Greek and Roman traditions. You will also have read selections from the original writings of many of these philosophers, especially Plato and Aristotle, without doubt two of the most brilliant and influential thinkers in the history of Western philosophy. In addition, you should have developed your ability to:

  • Read and understand difficult and challenging texts
  • Critically assess the strengths and weaknesses of arguments
  • Appreciate unfamiliar ideas and points of view
  • Express yourself clearly in discussion
  • Write clearly, concisely and effectively in support of your claims

Textbooks, Materials & Fees:

Required Text

There is just one required book, which will be available at the campus store:

  • C.D.C. Reeve and Patrick Lee Miller (eds.), Introductory Readings in Ancient Greek and Roman Philosophy, 2nd Edition (Hackett, 2015). The first edition of this same work (2006) would be adequate, should you have the chance to obtain a used copy.

Course Website

I will be using a course website on Avenue to Learn ( to post regular updates and information about the course, copies of material distributed in class (including all slides), supplementary readings, additional resources, essay questions, and information and advice about assessment. I encourage you to check in regularly.

Method of Assessment:

  1. Essays (60%)

You will be required to submit two essays of not more than 1500 words in length (approximately 5-6 pages maximum). The purpose of the essays is to provide you with an opportunity to engage with the material covered in class in greater depth and to formulate your own responses to it, while developing your skills in critical thinking and writing. Each essay will count for 30% of your final grade. However, if you receive a higher grade for Essay 2, this will count for 40%, while Essay 1 will count for only 20% (this is to provide students who score poorly on the first essay with an opportunity to recover). See below for policies on late essays and accommodations. Further information about the essays and my expectations for them will be provided in class and on the course website.

  1. Final examination (30%)

The final examination will take place during the scheduled examination period and will cover material spanning the entire course. It will consist of short answer questions based closely on the required readings, together with a single essay on Hellenistic philosophy. Further information about the final examination will be provided closer to the time.

  1. Tutorial attendance and participation (10%)

There will be weekly tutorials, beginning Monday, September 14 (the first full week of classes). Tutorials provide you with a valuable opportunity to explore and discuss the ideas introduced in class in a way that is simply not possible in large lectures. Since critical discussion of ideas is integral to philosophy, tutorials form an essential part of this course.

Although I encourage you to attend tutorial every week if you can, you may miss up to three tutorials over the semester without documentation or penalty. If you miss no more than three tutorials, you will receive the maximum possible 8/10 for attendance. In the absence of permission or documentation, each further missed tutorial will result in a deduction of 1/10 (i.e. 1% of your final grade). The remaining 2/10 will be awarded on the basis of the quality of your contributions to discussion, as determined by your TA.

Summary and due dates:

Essay 1 (maximum 1500 words, due 11:59pm on Saturday, Oct 17)              30% (or 20%)*

Essay 2            (maximum 1500 words, due 11:59pm on Saturday, Nov 21)             30% (or 40%)*

Final examination (during the scheduled examination period)                                    30%

Tutorial attendance and participation                                                             10%

*See above


Instructions for Submitting Essays

  • You should submit your essays electronically, using the “Dropbox” tool on Avenue to Learn. Your TA may request, in addition to this electronic version, a hard copy of your essay to facilitate grading (this will be left to the discretion of individual TAs). Note that the philosophy department office staff do not accept essays or return them to students.
  • Your essays should include your name and your TA’s name, be in 12-point font and double-spaced, and have regular (1 inch) margins. The question you are answering in the paper should be clearly identified. Please number all pages (this makes commenting easier). Please submit only in one of these two file formats: MS Word or pdf.
  • Work submitted on Avenue may be checked automatically by to reveal plagiarism. If this check occurs, it will be added to the Turnitin database. If you do not wish to have your work added to the Turnitin database, please send it to your TA as an e-mail attachment instead. No penalty will be assigned if you submit your work this way. To see the university’s policy, click here.

Policies on Late Work, Extensions and Accommodations

  • Late essays will be penalized at the rate of 4% for the first day or part day late, then 2% for each subsequent day or part day (this includes weekend days), up to a maximum penalty of -10% for essays up to one week late. Essays more than one week late will not be accepted at all, except where there are appropriately documented compassionate or medical grounds, or with explicit prior permission from me or from your TA.
  • I understand that students are sometimes unable to complete a piece of assessment on time (or at all) for legitimate medical or personal/compassionate reasons. If you find yourself in such a situation, please contact your TA or me as soon as possible to let us know. Once we have been made aware of the situation, we can grant an extension or take other steps to ensure that you are not unduly penalized for the late or missed work. Supporting medical documentation, if required, should be provided to your home faculty or program office, not to me or your TA (the office in question will contact me in due course, to let me know this documentation has been received).
  • All requests for extensions should be directed in the first instance to your TA. Please make your request prior to the essay’s due date. You should make your request by email (so there is a written record), and clearly explain your reasons.
    • Note that since both essays for this course are worth more than 25% of your final grade, we will not be accepting the McMaster Student Absence Form (MSAF) for them. If you do suffer a minor illness and need a short extension (up to three days), simply contact your TA to explain the situation and request one. I will be encouraging the TAs to be generous with short extensions. However, if you need longer than three days, documentation may be required.
  • Students registered with Student Accessibility Services (SAS) should come to see me as soon as possible after the start of the semester – I would like to know who you are and whether you require any special assistance, while you will in any case need to provide me with a copy of your official accommodations letter.

Please Note the Following Policies and Statements:

Academic Dishonesty

You are expected to exhibit honesty and use ethical behaviour in all aspects of the learning process. Academic credentials you earn are rooted in principles of honesty and academic integrity.

Academic dishonesty is to knowingly act or fail to act in a way that results or could result in unearned academic credit or advantage. This behaviour can result in serious consequences, e.g. the grade of zero on an assignment, loss of credit with a notation on the transcript (notation reads: "Grade of F assigned for academic dishonesty"), and/or suspension or expulsion from the university.

It is your responsibility to understand what constitutes academic dishonesty. For information on the various types of academic dishonesty please refer to the Academic Integrity Policy, located at

The following illustrates only three forms of academic dishonesty:

  1. Plagiarism, e.g. the submission of work that is not one’s own or for which other credit has been obtained.
  2. Improper collaboration in group work.
  3. Copying or using unauthorized aids in tests and examinations.

Email correspondence policy

It is the policy of the Faculty of Humanities that all email communication sent from students to instructors (including TAs), and from students to staff, must originate from each student’s own McMaster University email account. This policy protects confidentiality and confirms the identity of the student.  Instructors will delete emails that do not originate from a McMaster email account.

Modification of course outlines

The University reserves the right to change dates and/or deadlines etc. for any or all courses in the case of an emergency situation or labour disruption or civil unrest/disobedience, etc. If a modification becomes necessary, reasonable notice and communication with the students will be given with an explanation and the opportunity to comment on changes. Any significant changes should be made in consultation with the Department Chair.

McMaster Student Absence Form (MSAF)

In the event of an absence for medical or other reasons, students should review and follow the Academic Regulation in the Undergraduate Calendar Requests for Relief for Missed Academic Term Work. Please note these regulations have changed beginning Fall 2015. You can find information at If you have any questions about the MSAF, please contact your Associate Dean's office.

Academic Accommodation of Students with Disabilities

Students who require academic accommodation must contact Student Accessibility Services (SAS) to make arrangements with a Program Coordinator. Academic accommodations must be arranged for each term of study. Student Accessibility Services can be contacted by phone 905-525-9140 ext. 28652 or e-mail For further information, consult McMaster University's Policy for Academic Accommodation of Students with Disabilities.

Academic Accommodation for Religious, Indigenous and Spiritual Observances

Students requiring academic accommodation based on religion and spiritual observances should follow the procedures set out in the Course Calendar or by their respective Faculty. In most cases, the student should contact his or her professor or academic advisor as soon as possible to arrange accommodations for classes, assignments, tests and examinations that might be affected by a religious holiday or spiritual observance.

Topics and Readings:




Required Reading


Week 1

Sep 9

Introduction to the course


Week 2

Sep 14, 16

Part 1: Socrates and Plato

Introduction to Socrates and Plato (Reading: Reeve and Miller (RM), 49-52)

Apology of Socrates (RM 62-78)


Week 3

Sep 21, 23

Euthyphro (RM 52-62)

Crito (RM 78-85)


Week 4

Sep 28, 30

Meno (RM 91-111)


Week 5

Oct 5, 7

Phaedo (RM 112-43)




**Mid-term recess**

Essay 1 due (Sat, Oct 17)

Week 6

Oct 19, 21

Part 2: Aristotle:

Introduction to Aristotle (RM 250-4)

Categories 1-5 (RM 255-9)


Week 7

Oct 26, 28

Metaphysics A (exerpts) (RM 291-9)

Physics I.1, II (RM 271-81)


Week 8

Nov 2, 4

De Anima I.1, 4; II 1-4 (RM 281-7)


Week 9

Nov 9, 11

Nic. Ethics I. 1-5, 7-9, 13 (RM 310-17)


Week 10

Nov 16, 18

Part 3: Hellenistic Philosophy

Epicureanism 1: Atomism

Epicurus, Letter to Herodotus (RM 357-65); Lucretius, On the Nature of Things 1 (396-401)

Epicureanism 2: Pleasure and Happiness

Epicurus, Letter to Menoeceus (RM 365-7)

Epicurus, Principle Doctrines (RM 367-70)

Essay 2 due (Sat, Nov 21)

Week 11

Nov 23, 25

Epicureanism 3: The Fear of Death

Lucretius, On the Nature of Things 3 (lines 830-1094, supplement on website)

Stoicism 1: God and Nature

Diogenes Laertius, Lives of the Eminent Philosophers 7.132-151 (371 to bottom of 373)


Week 12

Nov 30, Dec 2

Stoicism 2: Virtue and Happiness

Stoicism 3: The Stoics on the Emotions

For both classes: Diogenes Laertius, Lives of the Eminent Philosophers 7.84-131 (RM 374-9),

Seneca: On the Happy Life (RM 425-9)


Week 13

Dec 7

Conclusion and exam review





Final exam (date TBA)


Other Course Information:

Additional Notes:

  1. Please retain a copy of all your graded papers.
  2. The scale used by the Registrar’s Office will be used to convert number grades to final letter grades. Here’s a link to the standard chart:
  3. You will have the opportunity to evaluate your instructors’ teaching (both mine and your TA’s) and the course as a whole towards the end of the term.
  4. You may find the Student Success Centre of assistance in developing your writing and study skills:
  5. E-mail policy: In accordance with university policy, you should use your own McMaster e-mail account for all e-mail correspondence with me. This policy protects confidentiality and confirms the identity of the student.
  6. Academic integrity policy: You are expected to exhibit honesty and to behave ethically in all aspects of the learning process. Academic dishonesty consists of misrepresentation by deception or by other fraudulent means and can result in serious consequences, e.g. the grade of zero on an assignment, loss of credit with a notation on the transcript (notation reads: “Grade of F assigned for academic dishonesty”), and/or suspension or expulsion from the university. It is your responsibility to understand what constitutes academic dishonesty. The following list illustrates only three forms: plagiarism, e.g. the submission of work that is not one’s own or for which other credit has been obtained; improper collaboration in group work; copying or using unauthorized aids in tests and examinations. For complete information refer to the Academic Integrity Policy, available at

Final note:

The instructor and university reserve the right to modify elements of the course during the term. The university may change the dates and deadlines for any or all courses in extreme circumstances. If either type of modification becomes necessary, reasonable notice and communication with the students will be given with explanation and the opportunity to comment on changes. It is the responsibility of the student to check their McMaster email and course websites weekly during the term and to note any changes