The wider pedagogical literature includes a number of suggestions regarding the use of non-philosophical texts with students new to the academic study of philosophy. In particular, a number of authors have suggested that the use of media already familiar to students novels and films especially may help students engage with philosophical material that otherwise would appear forbidding and inaccessible. Some may have doubts about the excessive use of such material in the classroom. Nevertheless the use of these sorts of materials may well be the most effective way to engage new students who would gain little from being thrown into the deep end by, say, reading Aristotles Categories on day one. In sum, it is probably simply a question of determining the most appropriate strategy for a particular group.
Such an approach has been employed with regard to ancient philosophy by William Stephens, who reports considerable success. In a course devoted to Stoicism, students supplemented their reading of Epictetus and Seneca by reading Tom Wolfes novel A Man in Full and watching Ridley Scotts film Gladiator. Assigned readings for the course began with sections of A Man in Full, gently supplemented with extracts from Epictetus as the course progressed, and only later being replaced by extended readings from Epictetus and Seneca. For Stephens, the objective behind this pedagogical strategy was not only to make use of materials culturally familiar to his students but also to consider the influence of Stoicism on contemporary culture. This enabled students to see the continuing relevance of the ancient texts that they were studying. But perhaps most importantly of all, it offered students who had never read ancient philosophical texts before a gentle introduction to the subject matter of the course before being exposed to the primary sources.
Obviously the quantity of material in these popular media directly relevant to the study of ancient philosophy is extremely limited. But it may be worth noting that two films have been made devoted to the life and death of Socrates; Socrate (1970), directed by Roberto Rossellini, and Barefoot in Athens (1966), starring Peter Ustinov.
Next Section: Courses in Ancient Philosophy
This site was created by Dr John Sellars for the PRS-LTSN, 2002.