Rated 5 out of 5 by namdrol An Intro to Roman Ethics and Philosophy
This course is an good introduction to a broad array of Roman philosophers by focusing their examination of the qualities for living a responsible, virtuous, good life; a topic of much interest in philosophy of previous ages.
The scope is ambitious and, IMO, succeeds admirably, It accomplishes it's aims so well, that one without previous study will gain a good introduction and the course book provides guidance for further study. Thus is no small feat and is why I highly recommend this course.
Professor Johnson, as others noted, does have some quirks. He occasionally takes unwarranted flights of conjecture, and at times can get carried away with his own appreciation of his wittiness, that may not be shared by his audience. But, to be fair, I found such flights to be only occasional and while they may prove irritating interludes in a few lectures, they do not negate the value of this course.
January 7, 2014
Rated 5 out of 5 by Jacobsen Excellent in Every Respect
I initially bought this course as part of my own late-life review of the Greco-Roman philosophers I first encountered as a graduate student, over 40 years ago. However, Professor Johnson's command of the materials, obvious enthusiasm, and profound learning have made this course one of my favorites from The Great Courses.
In fact, I plan to start over again, not only because Professor Johnson covers so much territory so well but, more important, he's such a companionable guide. I like having him look over my shoulder as I read Lucian, Plutarch, Marcus Aurelius, Cicero and the other figures he covers in the course.
I think he is spot-on with his conclusion that the Greco-Roman moralists represent a large and important missing part of philosophy. And, perhaps more important, they have a lot to say to us about what it is to lead a good life.
Thank you Professor Johnson.
October 29, 2013
Rated 4 out of 5 by RoyT A Gem (in most respects)!
This is an extremely interesting and informative course on philosophers or moralists of the Roman Empire that is well-grounded and accessible to all. No previous background is needed, as Professor Johnson supplies all that you would need. I was more than a bit irritated, however, by his use of the politically correct BCE (Before the Common Era)/CE (Common Era) dating in the lectures. Other reviewers complain about Professor Johnson’s delivery, and I have to admit his voice is sometimes grating and he often seems pompous (hence my rating, which I would place at 4.5). But stick with him. I did, and I am glad for it. As I got engrossed in his lectures, I put my irritation to one side and eventually let it go.
This is a philosophy course like no other, as it does not deal with theories and ideas, but rather with how to live well as a human being: wisdom and the “ethics of character” rather than knowledge. Professor Johnson maintains that the moralists of the Roman Empire constitute a missing page in Philosophy’s story, and that their work is at the heart of the philosophical “enterprise”. This focus, however, led to the Greco-Roman Moralists being later underappreciated, according to Professor Johnson, by other philosophers (focused on such issues as being and knowing, rather than exhortation), classicists (put off by the common and unimaginative language employed), and scholars of religion (who missed the diverse responses to religion in the moralists, though students of the New Testament are now paying closer attention). The moralists, nevertheless, got the attention of the wider culture of the time, as these nine and others like them were highly valued as “doctors of the soul”. In this regard, Professor Johnson does a great job in explaining the relevance of nine moralists from the Roman Empire to life today. While they have different backgrounds and approaches, the nine figures have much in common (from the course Guidebook, Part 2, Page 24-25):
“…united in an anti-Epicurean stance that is at once optimistic and public minded:
1. Religious devotion to the gods is good when it is reasonable and supports moral behavior.
2. Pleasure is a completely inadequate basis for the good life
3. Humans are essentially social and owe their best efforts to the common good rather than their private peace.
4. Human impulses (both positive and negative) are capable of being controlled and being made more productive through reason, and reason is capable of being educated. “
I had been familiar with the works of several of the nine before I took this course, having found them helpful when I needed to regain perspective in challenging situations: Epictetus (Professor Johnson’s favorite, to whom he devotes three lectures), Seneca, Cicero, and Plutarch (my favorite, on whom four lectures are devoted), and Marcus Aurelius. This course helped to widen and deepen my appreciation of these moralists and their times. The course also introduced to me others I either had not heard of or only knew of by name. For me, the real finds among these five are Musonius Rufus, known as the Roman Socrates, and Philo, who synthesized Judaism and Greek philosophy. I especially appreciated Professor Johnson’s quoting liberally from the writings of the nine moralists, explaining some of the obscure passages, and providing interesting details about influences and impacts on and by them.
I was so impressed with Professor Johnson in this course that I not only replaced my original 2004 audio tapes with an audio download, but also purchased several other courses by him.
September 20, 2013
Rated 2 out of 5 Information Good, Delivery Poor
Professor Johnson delivers a dry lecture on a very interesting topic. I was skeptical about listening to lectures on disc and this has made me even more so. There is no enthusiasm and it makes for boring listening. His continued use of BCE and CE instead of B.C and A.D is, I am guessing, a product of his Yale education and takes away from the lecture. Enough already of trying to be Politically correct. I am very disappointed.
July 3, 2013