Despite their differences, the Guthrie and Hadot
approaches both follow a broadly chronological approach. An alternative
approach can be found in two recent anthologies, both of which arrange
their material thematically rather than chronologically. These are Terence
Irwins Classical Philosophy and Julia Annas Voices of Ancient
Philosophy. Annas modestly notes at the end of her volume that "Irwins
book is more comprehensive and less introductory than this one".
Irwins volume is indeed impressive, but some teachers may prefer
Annas book insofar as it generally offers extended excerpts rather
than brief quotations and the commentary is less obtrusive. In Irwins
book it is easy to find oneself reading more of Irwin than of the primary
sources. Thus the two volumes embody slightly different approaches and
in certain respects Annas may be more flexible as a textbook.
Alternatively, one might prefer to follow a suggestion made by Priscilla
Sakezles, who outlines a thematic approach to ancient philosophy that
focuses upon just one philosophical problem. Sakezles own course
focuses upon the debate between Stoics and Peripatetics concerning fate
and responsibility. Following Sakezles lead, it is possible to outline
a number of thematically orientated courses in ancient philosophy. Consider,
for instance, the following suggestions:
- Fate, Freewill, and Responsibility. As I have already noted,
Sakezles has outlined a course devoted to the debate between Stoics
and Peripatetics concerning fate and responsibility. Beyond the texts
that she suggests, one might also like to consider Ciceros On
Fate, Alexander of Aphrodisias On Fate, and Plotinus On
Providence (= Enneads 3.2 and 3.3). Annas and Irwin offer further selections.
- Ancient Epistemology. This is an especially rich topic upon
which to focus. The most obvious material can be found in Platos
response to Protagorean relativism, and later scepticism, both Academic
and Pyrrhonic. Then there are the various replies to scepticism by Aristotle,
the Stoics, and the Epicureans. Key texts would include Platos
Theaetetus and Ciceros Academics, among others. Further suggestions
can be found in the collection of essays by Everson.
- Ancient Philosophy of Science. This is closely related to the
last topic and could perhaps be combined with it. Obvious places to
begin might be Karl Poppers work on the origins of science in
the Presocratics, Aristotles reflections on scientific method
in the Physics and elsewhere, and Galens essays on the status
of medical expertise.
- Ancient Physics. The study of nature is a recurrent theme in
ancient thought. Beyond the natural philosophy of the earlier Presocratics,
relevant material may be found in Plato, Aristotle, Epicurus, and the
Stoics. Key texts might include Platos Timaeus, Aristotles
Physics, Epicurus Letter to Herodotus, and Ciceros On the
Nature of the Gods. Irwin offers some further material.
- Ancient Philosophy of Religion. There are a number of different
approaches that one could take to ancient philosophy of religion.
One could focus upon ancient arguments concerning the existence of the
traditional pagan gods, one could examine more theoretical accounts
of God as first principle made by ancient philosophers, or one could
look at material in the early Church Fathers more akin to recent philosophy
of religion. Perhaps a combination of these approaches could be used.
Relevant texts would include the fragments of Critias Sisyphus,
Ciceros On the Nature of the Gods, and a whole range of texts
by Augustine. Irwin offers further material.
- Ancient Philosophy of Mind. Although some might find this phrase
somewhat anachronistic, it is nevertheless helpful when referring to
ancient theories concerning the nature of the psyche. In fact, I borrow
this phrase from Annas study Hellenistic Philosophy of Mind. The
material covered by Annas in this volume may well be a good place to
begin. Platonic and Aristotelian psychology are also fertile ground,
with Aristotles On the Soul being an obvious text to include.
A helpful collection of essays edited by Everson may also be of use.
- The Good Life. A number of contributors to the existing pedagogical
literature have noted that students are often drawn to Socrates in the
Apology because his concern is not with some obscure technical philosophical
problem but rather the more fundamental question how should one
live?. Moreover, I have already noted that for Hadot this is perhaps
the most important philosophical topic in antiquity. Drawing upon this
student enthusiasm and Hadots groundwork one could easily construct
a course orientated by this theme, drawing upon texts such as Platos
Apology, Aristotles Nicomachean Ethics, Epicurus Letter
to Menoeceus, Epictetus Handbook, and Ciceros On Ends. Annas
offers some further suggestions.
- Ancient Political Philosophy. There are a number of anthologies
devoted to ancient political philosophy. The most obvious texts are,
of course, Platos Republic, Statesman, Laws, and Aristotles
Politics. But note also Ciceros Republic and Laws, Augustines
political writings, as well as the fragments of the Sophists.
These are just some of the more obvious ways in which one might construct
a course in ancient philosophy orientated by a particular philosophical
theme or topic. No doubt there are other possibilities. Whether a course
restricted to a single philosophical topic would be adequate as a general
introduction to ancient philosophy is another matter. But at intermediate
or advanced levels this sort of approach might prove very effective.
Links: Review of Annas
and Irwin / Review of Sakezles
Next Section: Beyond Aristotle