Guthrie versus Hadot
When a department of philosophy offers an Introduction to Ancient Philosophy course the syllabus usually begins with the earliest Presocratics, touches upon the Sophists, devotes most of its attention to Plato, and then concludes with a survey of Aristotle. No doubt this claim, like all generalisations, is subject to numerous exceptions and objections. Nevertheless it forms a reasonable point of departure. This is, for instance, the approach embodied in the Hackett anthology Readings in Ancient Greek Philosophy: From Thales to Aristotle. I shall call this the Guthrie approach, as its syllabus corresponds to the material covered in Guthries magisterial six-volume history of Greek philosophy. I have no intention to criticise either this approach or the masterly work of the individual whose name I shall use to refer to it. However, in what follows I shall attempt to propose a number of other approaches that might stand alongside the Guthrie approach as equally worthy models for courses in ancient philosophy.
Perhaps the clearest alternative to the Guthrie approach may be found in the works of the French scholar Pierre Hadot. In one of his more recent works What is Ancient Philosophy? what I shall call the Hadot approach finds its clearest expression. Here, Hadot begins his account of ancient philosophy not with the earliest Presocratics but rather with Socrates. For Hadot, it is with Socrates and his immediate disciples that the concept of philosophy first appears. Although Plato and Aristotle receive due attention, their philosophies are placed within the wider context of the other Hellenistic schools and the narrative continues into Neoplatonism and early Christian thought. Perhaps more significantly, whereas the Guthrie approach tends to focus upon epistemological and metaphysical themes, the Hadot approach places ethical themes centre-stage in the form of the ideal of the philosophical life.
While both of these approaches are equally justified, the Hadot approach may appeal more to those who want to introduce Hellenistic philosophy to students. It also has the advantage of a unifying theme the Socratic question how should one live? that a number of teachers have reported to be especially appealing to students.
Next Section: Thematic Approaches
This site was created by Dr John Sellars for the PRS-LTSN, 2002.