Introduction to Greek Philosophy

Course No. 4477
Professor David Roochnik, Ph.D.
Boston University
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Course Overview

The first philosophers in Western history—the ancient Greeks—asked the most fundamental questions about human beings and their relationship to the world. More than 2,500 years later, the issues they pondered continue to challenge, fascinate, and instruct us. Is reality stable and permanent or is it always changing? Are ethical values like justice and courage relative? Or are values "absolute"—simply and forever right and true? What is justice? What is happiness? How shall we best live our lives?

An Introduction to Greek Philosophy beckons you to join this eternal discussion. For that is what this subject truly is: a conversation among thinkers that has continued through the centuries and remains accessible to us today. You find it constantly stimulating, sometimes controversial, and nearly always remarkably relevant.

A Hunger for Reasons, not Myths or Beliefs

Professor David Roochnik has organized this series of 24 lectures as a "dialectical" approach (the word comes from the Greek dialegesthai: to converse). The philosophers are presented as if they were participating in a conversation. In this way, the course unfolds in a manner similar to the actual development of Greek philosophy.

In this course, you study the development of Greek philosophy, meet its major thinkers, and explore the issues and ideas that concerned them. For example the first real philosophers were the Presocratics—literally, the philosophers who lived before Socrates. They included Thales of Miletus (585 B.C.E.–?), Anaximander (610–546), Anaximenes (approx. 550), Xenophanes (approx. 570) and Pythagoras (approx. 570–500).

The Presocratics rejected myth and divine inspiration—such as had been embodied in the works of Homer and in Hesiod's creation story, the Theogony—as valid explanations of reality. Instead, they insisted that true understanding always requires a logos, a rational explanation (hence such English words as "psychology" and "biology").

The Presocratics were concerned with issues such as identifying the arche or "Being": the thing that is the origin of all other things. They also introduced sophistic relativism, the notion that truth, goodness, and all other values were relative, depending entirely on the person or group that held them. This concept would become a major point of debate for the Greeks and for the ages.

Are We Footnotes to Plato?

The heroes of this course, and certainly of Greek philosophy, are Plato (429–347 B.C.E.) and his student, Aristotle (384–322 B.C.E.). Unlike the Presocratics, who wrote too little, Plato and Aristotle were prolific authors. Both argued against relativism and instead were staunch objectivists who believed that certain important values were absolutely and universally true. And both left a staggering mark on history.

Alfred North Whitehead, the great 20th-century British philosopher, said, "The safest general characterization of the European philosophical tradition is that it consists of a series of footnotes to Plato." In the Middle Ages, Aristotle was held in such high esteem that he was simply known as "the philosopher."

Among Plato's many contributions to philosophy is his ingenious device for the examination of ideas: his written dialogues. In them, Plato never uses his own voice. Instead, the dialogues take place among a changing cast of characters, and Socrates is the most notable among them. The effect is to invite us to take part in the conversation and, ultimately, to become philosophers.

You study Plato's dialogues as well as his notion of the Forms. This was his response to relativism and proposed that every virtue and value has an absolute and perfect Form, which humans understand even before birth.

Greek philosophy can be said to culminate with Aristotle, who wrote treatises on a breathtaking range of subjects. He is said to be the first to view knowledge as being divided into specific disciplines such as biology or astronomy. The university was later modeled on this approach. More than any other philosopher, Aristotle synthesized the views that preceded him.

For Aristotle, one value was foremost and was contained in everything, from the tiniest organisms to the phenomena of fire to human beings: purpose. Everything has a purpose that can be recognized and objectively defined, and that gives meaning to life. You explore the details and rationale of Aristotle's teleological—or purposive—world-view, one of the most significant in history.

An Invitation to Think

In this course, you not only learn about Greek philosophy but, to some extent, how to do it. Professor Roochnik emphasizes that Greek philosophy is ultimately not about facts or answers but about the give-and-take of ideas.

By the end of these lectures, you will understand how Greek philosophy still heavily influences our view of life. We live today, Professor Roochnik maintains, at a time that is shaped by Presocratic, relativistic philosophy. Contemporary thinkers, and often the average person, have great difficulty finding objective truth or meaning in life.

What have we lost in turning away from the world of Plato and Aristotle—a world where everything has a place and a purpose and life is saturated with value and meaning?

On the other hand, what would we lose if we returned to that world?

These are a few of the many questions that will give you ample food for thought. For the Greeks, that was the greatest feast of all.

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24 lectures
 |  Average 30 minutes each
  • 1
    A Dialectical Approach to Greek Philosophy
    The approach of this course is "dialectical." The development of Greek philosophy is presented as a conversation between thinkers who respond to each other. The purpose is to invite the student to enter the dialogue that the Greeks began, and that continues to this day. x
  • 2
    From Myth to Philosophy—Hesiod and Thales
    Thales is generally regarded as the first philosopher of the West. He claimed to have rationally discovered the origin (archê) of all things: water. With this claim, he fundamentally broke with the myth-makers of the past. x
  • 3
    The Milesians and the Quest for Being
    Thales and two other philosophers from Miletus— Anaximander and Anaximenes—agreed that the world has an origin (archê) that can be comprehended rationally. They disagreed, however, as to its nature. This dispute about Being was the first debate in Western philosophy. x
  • 4
    The Great Intrusion—Heraclitus
    Heraclitus of Ephesus (540–480) offered a daring response to the dilemma of Being and Becoming: he eliminated Being. According to Heraclitus, nothing is stable or permanent. But if reality is unstable, how can it have a rational explanation? x
  • 5
    Parmenides—The Champion of Being
    Parmenides of Elea (c. 515–440) responded to Heraclitus by eliminating Becoming. His was a supremely rationalist position that rejected "appearance" (doxa)—what the world seems like to our eyes, ears and other senses—as totally unreliable and philosophically worthless. x
  • 6
    Reconciling Heraclitus and Parmenides
    Much of Greek philosophy in the fifth century attempted to reconcile the conclusions of Heraclitus and Parmenides. This lecture discusses three such efforts, by Democritus of Abdera (c. 460), Anaxagoras (500–428) and Empedocles (493–433). x
  • 7
    The Sophists—Protagoras, the First "Humanist"
    The Sophists, a group of thinkers who lived in the fifth century, were professional teachers who traveled from city to city. This lecture focuses on Protagoras of Abdera, the first humanist in the West. He was a relativist for whom the distinctive feature of human beings was language, especially when applied to political deliberation and debate. Thus, he taught rhetoric, the art of speaking well. x
  • 8
    Socrates
    Socrates wrote nothing, and what we know of him comes from the writings of others. He was interested in ethical concepts, and sought definitions to such questions as "What is justice?" and "What is courage?" His basic concern was how a person could live a good life. x
  • 9
    An Introduction to Plato's Dialogues
    Plato wrote some 25 dialogues, a few of them (the Republic and the Laws), quite long. Only a small portion of Plato's writings will be addressed in this course. These themes will be selected with one consideration: How did Plato respond to his predecessors, the Sophists and the Presocratics? x
  • 10
    Plato versus the Sophists, I
    Plato was profoundly opposed to the relativism of the Sophists. He believed that the idea that "human being is the measure of all things" was philosophically, morally, and politically pernicious. This lecture examines in some detail one argument the philosopher used against his Sophistic opponents. x
  • 11
    Plato versus the Sophists, II
    Another strategy that Plato used against the relativism of the Sophists was the self-reference argument. In this sort of refutation, a position is used against itself. In the Theaetetus, Socrates uses the self-reference argument against Protagoras and Heraclitus. x
  • 12
    Plato's Forms, I
    In another dialogue, The Meno, Socrates asks his Sophistic opponent: "What is virtue itself?" This question demands a universal definition that embraces all the particulars. This is "The Form of Virtue," a crucial Platonic concept that will be explained in some detail. x
  • 13
    Plato's Forms, II
    Why should anyone believe that there are Platonic Forms? This is a profound question in the debate about relativism. In Plato's dialogue the Phaedo, Socrates shows that the Forms cannot be derived from experience. Instead, they are "recollected." This lecture will explain what this means. x
  • 14
    Plato versus the Presocratics
    Plato was a fundamentally different kind of thinker from the Presocratics. They were phusiologoi, natural philosophers, interested mostly in giving an account of nature (a logos of phusis). By contrast, Plato was most involved with questions concerning the value and meaning of human life. For Plato, the world was saturated in value. x
  • 15
    The Republic—The Political Implications of the Forms
    The Forms played a crucial role in Plato's political thinking. This lecture turns to the "Parable of the Cave" in the Republic to consider the political implications of the Forms. The regime Plato seems to recommend is quite authoritarian. The ultimate authority, however, is not a man, but wisdom itself. x
  • 16
    Final Reflections on Plato
    By focusing on Plato's critique of the Sophists and the Presocratics, these lectures have positioned him to enter into the major philosophical debates of today. Contemporary thought has two dominant worldviews: the scientific, which is the legacy of the Presocratics, and the relativistic, whose representatives today are descendants of the Sophists. In rejecting both, Plato offers a compelling middle way that is still viable. x
  • 17
    Aristotle—"The" Philosopher
    Aristotle's influence on Western civilization was monumental. He was so dominant that in the Middle Ages he was simply called "the philosopher." Unlike Plato, Aristotle gave systematic answers to the questions asked in each of these fields. This lecture covers some general characteristics of Aristotelian theory, and begins to discuss how it is both similar to, yet fundamentally different from, the modern conception of science. x
  • 18
    Aristotle's Physics—What is Nature?
    This lecture introduces Aristotle's Physics, his study (or theory) of nature. Aristotle appreciated the groundbreaking efforts of his predecessors, the Presocratics, but thought they put too much emphasis on material elements. As a student of Plato, Aristotle insisted that "form" was a crucial part of natural beings. His view is called "hylomorphism," a doctrine in which both matter (hulê) and form (morphê) play an essential role. x
  • 19
    Aristotle's Physics—The Four Causes
    The Physics presents Aristotle's doctrine of the four causes: the efficient, the material, the formal, and the final. Aristotle's final cause implies that natural beings, not just humans, have purposes. This is Aristotle's "teleological" conception of nature, and is essential to understanding his view of the world. x
  • 20
    Why Plants Have Souls
    The Aristotelian idea that plants have souls sounds preposterous to modern ears. However, Aristotle's conception of soul (psychê) is so radically different from what we associate with the word that, in fact, his position can be philosophically defended. x
  • 21
    Aristotle's Hierarchical Cosmos
    Aristotle conceives of a hierarchically ordered cosmos in which things have their place. The heavens are, quite literally, above the earth. They are higher, better, more perfect than things that are below the moon (sublunar). On earth, animals are higher than plants, and human beings are the highest animal of all. Religious thinkers later used this argument to prove the existence of God, but Aristotle's God is different from that of the monotheistic tradition in important ways. x
  • 22
    Aristotle's Teleological Politics
    Aristotle applied his teleological conception of the world not just to physical objects, but to politics as well. He argued that the human being is by nature a "political animal." According to Aristotle, human beings naturally form communities, which reach their zenith in the city, the only community that exists "for the sake of living well." Some of Aristotle's political views, such as on slavery or the purpose of marriage, are shocking and controversial to a contemporary audience. x
  • 23
    Aristotle's Teleological Ethics
    Aristotle's Nicomachean Ethics also reflects a teleological view of nature. This is illustrated by his conception of "happiness." For him, happiness is a kind of work. Human beings, like all animals, have a "proper function," or telos, which defines their potentialities. Those who fully actualize that nature are happy. Those who do not are unhappy (regardless of how they feel about themselves). x
  • 24
    The Philosophical Life
    What can we learn today from Aristotle's conception of the theoretical life—the life spent studying the world? While the technological achievements of modern science are extraordinary, they risk blinding us to what it means to be human. Aristotle, with his commonsensical view of experience, keeps us connected to human life as it is actually lived. This is a lesson desperately needed in the contemporary world. x

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David Roochnik

About Your Professor

David Roochnik, Ph.D.
Boston University
Dr. David Roochnik is Professor of Philosophy at Boston University, where he teaches in both the Department of Philosophy and the Core Curriculum, an undergraduate program in the humanities. He completed his undergraduate work at Trinity College, where he majored in philosophy, and earned his Ph.D. from Pennsylvania State University. Dr. Roochnik was awarded Boston University's Gitner Award in 1997 for excellence in teaching...
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Reviews

Introduction to Greek Philosophy is rated 4.6 out of 5 by 55.
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Wait a minute, is philosophy actually fun?? I am a total beginner. I actually started watching another Teaching Company philosophy course along side of this one but I will not say which one because it would be unfair since I'm too close to the beginning of that one. But the other course seems like I am in college and Frasier Crane is teaching the course, there is a lot of fancy long winded sentences, and even if I don't get lost I have the feeling of "Ok I really wanna get philosophy down, so pay attention!!" Conversely this course feels like my next door neighbor is teaching me philosophy in our everyday language! My reaction is more like "Hey this is a really cool story!!" This course was fun. I can't be happier with the way that the course is organized. He sets everything up like a mock debate between philosophers from different time frames as if they were in the same room. But he doesn't start off as if they are all in the same room he introduces each new 'Mock Debator' one at a time like NBA players being introduced before a playoff game. And the way he introduces them is in sequence of both time and 'New' philosophical ideas...the philosopher that he starts off with is Thayles. He builds the progression of philosophical ideas from the ground up, after he introduces each new philosopher he then gives you the mock debate format where he pits them against the philosopher(s) already introduced prior. I thought it was a spectacular layout. In the total beginning he even gives a quick recap for the worldview that Thayles was born into, so that we're not thinking about Thayles as if he lived in a vacuum. He gives a brief summery of how the pre-Socrates philosophers (Thayles & company) were preceded by the tradition of Greek poems & storytelling myths that were taught for the purpose of conveying lessons. And the professor is humble about his statements, he's the type of professor who says things like "For argument's sake we'll call Thayles the 1st philosopher" or "We THINK that philosopher 'B' was the student of philosopher 'A' but we're not positive." (Not exact quotes I'm just giving you the gist of his style). So after Thayles he'll get into a student of Thayles and he'll explain the rationale for why that philosopher chose to disagree with Thayles on this point or on that point (even if the 2 usually agreed with each other). This continues down the line. I found myself saying several times "Ahh that is a clever alternative line of thinking!!!" As I said previously the course was fun. So far I feel like the other course is a course that I'll have to listen to a 2nd time because there's a lot of information. Conversely this course makes me feel like I GET TO listen to it again. I wish this professor did more philosophy courses!! I also don't think that the way this course is organized JUST makes it fun, I also think it's a great game plan to get people to understand philosophy more clearly because it goes in order.
Date published: 2017-12-07
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Fascniating and beautifully taught I have heard many TGC courses on Greek Philosophy: the current Professor’s other course dedicated exclusively to Plato’s republic, Professor Bartlett’s course “Masters of Greek thought” dedicated to Socrates, Plato and Aristotle, and Professor Surgue’s course on Plato’s dialogues. Hands down, I found professor Roochnik to be by far the most profound, clear and insightful presenter to these topics and I enjoyed his courses immensely. The current course is a general introduction/survey of ancient Greek philosophy. The first part which is dedicated to the “Pre-Socratics” is just in this vein: a no-frills, not particularly profound survey of the major figures and their thoughts. Once he gets to Socrates, and even more so to Plato he shifts gears altogether and one gets an absolutely insightful and beautifully taught set of lectures that expose many of the subtleties, ironies and beliefs of Platonic thought. I particularly enjoyed this part because he presented Plato not only as a Philosopher but also as a master poet. Professor Roochnik was very thorough in presenting the beauty and profundity of Plato’s work both artistically and analytically. Most of all, I enjoyed his discussions on Plato’s use of irony. Not only does this produce in many cases highly comical situations, it is also very affective in not letting you understand what Plato’s personal opinion is. As Professor Roochnik explains, perhaps this was Plato’s intent to begin with, since this allows a way of forming the closest thing to a real dialogue between the reader (twenty five centuries removed) and Plato. As for the last part regarding Aristotle – I admit that I found this to be a bit of a slog and it is certainly not my favorite part of the course, though there were some parts that were very interesting here as well. Overall this has been a wonderful course. The Professor’s teaching style, especially in the lectures on Socrates and Plato is among the ones I enjoyed most in TGC so far. It was not only fascinating but highly enjoyable and I’m glad I decided to hear it.
Date published: 2017-06-22
Rated 2 out of 5 by from Not relevant I was very disappointing b/c most of the material / philosophies presented are no longer relevant in the face of modern science. Even the Roochnik made this point. So instead of being challenged by enlightened thought, I kept finding myself saying how easily I could refute their beliefs. Thus I generally found it to be a waste of my time.
Date published: 2016-11-27
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Enjoying Greek Philosophy I stumbled upon the topic of Greek philosophy, and having no significant previous experience with philosophy, decided to start at the beginning. I have thoroughly enjoyed the first half of the course and plan to pursue other philosophy courses once this is completed. The professor makes the topic relatable and follows a very logical progression from one early philosopher to the next. I highly recommend this course.
Date published: 2016-09-21
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Excellent course I enjoyed this course so much that as soon as I finished it I began again right away from the beginning. Dr. Roochnik is an exceptionally gifted teacher. His presentation is calm, measured, and easy to follow, and while he presents a wealth of material, he does so in a way which always keeps the "big picture" (or the "big questions") in view. He also does an excellent job of showing the relevance of Greek philosophy both to subsequent developments in philosophy, and to contemporary concerns (such as the perennial problem of moral relativism). I learned so much! An outstanding value, and one of the best courses I've listened to!
Date published: 2016-09-08
Rated 5 out of 5 by from An Excellent Overview This was a very enjoyable introduction to Greek philosophy that I think accomplished exactly what it set out to do; provide a detailed (but not cursory) introduction to the major themes and thinkers of Greek philosophy without bogging down into any one topic and losing the flow of the course. Professor Roochnik pulls off this difficult task with seeming ease and makes each lecture a rich buffet of information. Highly recommended.
Date published: 2016-09-06
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Nice introductory course This is a good basic introduction to Greek philosophers up to Aristotle. The professor presented various ideas, like Being and Arch`e from the perspective of the various philosophers. It is a nice way of getting your big toe wet, so to speak.
Date published: 2016-06-14
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Slow to start but an excellent overview Professor Roochnik introduces the Greek philosophy as a series of arguments (dialectically) between various thinkers, and the lectures are well constructed, and complete. The course presents the progression of ideas to explain the reality from the myths of Hesiod, the material explanation of the reality by the pre-socratic philosophers, to the relativist ideas of the sophists, to the counter arguments to sophistic relativism by Plato, and Aristotle. The bulk of the lectures are justifiably on Plato and Aristotle. His way of comparing and contrasting various strains of thoughts, and he places Aristotle at the apex of the Greek philosophers, as someone who brought together the various strands of Greek thought, as a worthy successor who expanded on the materialistic explanation of the universe by the pre-socratic philosophers, as a capable opponent of the relativistic ideas of the sophists alongside Plato, as someone who proposed a comprehensive system to understand the world as it presents itself through the particulars as opposed to the Platonic notions of idealized forms. The course is well organized, but starts very slow. I was somewhat put off by the slowness of the speaker (I set the speed at 1.25x), and somewhat repetitive pre-fabricated expressions such as, "Let me put it another way", or "monkey-wrench", or "as I mentioned in lecture x", etc. These are minor quibbles. It is a good course, well organized, and does justice to the chosen topic. I thoroughly enjoyed it, and I got it via audible.
Date published: 2015-12-01
Rated 5 out of 5 by from High Marks I haven't listened to them all but I suspect this is one of the better Teaching Co philosophy courses. Roochnik's overview of Greeks comes across as instructive without being facile or patronizing. He works with patience to lay out the basics of his subjects' arguments in a manner that would make it an excellent companion for one's own reading of the sources. He's not an entertainer or a showman (for which thank God) but I found him careful, straightforward and on the high side of helpful. Sorry I didn't have it in hand back when I made my first schoolroom attack on the subject matter (unguided or misguided) so many years ago.
Date published: 2015-09-16
Rated 2 out of 5 by from Cadence made it difficult for me to get engaged The professor's cadence in speaking made it difficult for me to get engaged. At times he sounded like a robot. Which is a shame because based on some of the examples he provided during his lectures he certainly has a sense of humor, some personality, and perhaps the kind of guy with whom you'd like to go out for a drink. However, I just couldn't get into the conversation. The whole thing just seemed too slow. The pace of the insight was also slow...too far and between and he kept providing too many examples for what seemed like easy concepts. Overall I wouldn't recommend this course but lecture 21 on Aristotle's "God" was the most interesting.
Date published: 2015-09-15
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Another great course by Dr. Roochnik I just finished listening to it. Thank you very much for a great overview.
Date published: 2015-03-02
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Fine Introduction, But Once Through Will Do While the title of my review sounds like a "good news, bad news" message, don't dwell on it. The fact is that Professor Roochnik does a service by painting a picture in primary colors of the pageant of ancient Greek philosophy. His approach, while not innovative, sets out the necessary schools of thought, and the relativist vs. absolutist struggle, which continues to the present day. Professor Roochnik's manner (I rely on the audio version for this opinion) is barely animated, but he is authentic and earnest in his approach. Do not expect, by the way, the kind of linguistic "home run" that I have come to expect from such as Daniel Robinson. However, the course succeeds on the entry level.
Date published: 2015-01-03
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Very Good Course I would recommend this course to someone coming to Greek Philosophy for an introduction. The dialectical approach works very well in moving between the Pre-Socratics, Sophists, Socrates/Plato, and Aristotle. I didn't have the same strong engagement as I have had with other Teaching Co. philosophy courses, but that's because I am more an intermediate student. But if you need that initial road map to Greek philosophers, I would very much recommend starting here. I am motivated to see how Professor Roochnik presents the Republic in his other course.
Date published: 2014-07-22
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Greek Philosophy: Awakening The Buddha The professor invites his listeners to a dialectical conversation and not a written chronological survey of philosophies. It requires careful listening and responding to a predecessors' position to critically sharpen the conversation toward a DEVELOP-MENTAL-VISION of philosophy and science in a spirit of truth. This is nothing less than the soul’s monumental journey from shadows in a cave towards self actualization. As we listen to the dialogues, we experience two levels of reality simultaneously – the actual philosophers’ positions and our implicit invitation to join the conversation with our own LOGOS (rational account of reality). The dialogues raise fundamental issues concerning: logic / mythology, relativity / objectivity, rhetoric / truth, universal / particular, form / matter, teleology / mechanics, in short, philosophy and science as TRUTH ITSELF or merely PROBABLE TRUTH. Giving names to the philosophic players in this dialectical conversation we meet: the PreSocratic philosophers -- Thales, the Milesian school, Heraclitus, and Parmenides (the natural philosophers). As we move from nature to human nature we converse with the Sophists & Co. – with emphasis on Protagoras and his philosophic conviction that “MAN IS THE MEASURE” of all things. This statement may mean that only HUMAN NATURE can form a logos (hence measure and analyze reality) or that there are no objective truths and therefore only relativity and RHETORICAL arguments of first and second best, etc. (no absolute truths). Enter Socrates, Plato, and Aristotle to take the conversation to the highest level of objectivity imaginable – we still argue in their shadows today – from Socratic IGNORANCE to Platonic IDEAS and Aristotelian TELEOLOGY. Modern philosophy itself begins with the dichotomy between the RATIONALISTS / EMPIRICISTS (or Socrates & Plato / Aristotle in disguise). Why read classical Greek philosophy today? Since modern philosophy begins with a dichotomy between Rationalism / Empiricism, picking up the conversation we can contribute to the dialogue concerning scientific methodologies. The comparative PARADIGMS of SCIENCE: the classical Greek view of a naked-eyed HUMAN UNDERSTANDING of reality vs. an abstract technological NATURAL EXPLANATION of reality. Modern existential questions are immediately raised: where do men & women fit in these two different paradigms (understanding / explanation) of the modern sciences? Is this another version of the current debate between the moral and natural sciences? Professor David Roochnik is one of the best philosophers I have heard to date. You will meet his friends and hopefully make friends in these dialogues and join in on the philosophical conversation that started with the classical Greeks and is still evolving toward INTELLECTUAL EXCELLENCE. As the classical Greeks are so far and yet so close to us all – yes, another philosophical paradox -- in particular my sincere thanks to the professor, and generally to classical scholars who carry forward the intellectual culture of classical Greek civilization -- masterpieces! Again – one of the best – what are you waiting for?
Date published: 2014-04-02
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Excellent! I got this course on CDs from the county library as a refresher before tackling some other challenging Greek philosophy courses I had purchased from the Teaching Company (Plato’s Dialogues, Plato’s Republic, and Aristotle’s Ethics). This was my first course with Professor Roochnik, and I enjoyed it from beginning to end. His delivery is careful and well-organized and paced well for the audio version I use on walks and while driving. While I simply wanted a review of Plato and Aristotle, I found a lot more in this course than I had expected. That is attributable to Professor Roochnik “dialectical” approach, “…treat[ing] the various thinkers as if they were participating in a conversation.” (Course Guidebook, Scope). This works admirably. Professor Roochnik also makes clear how indebted we are to the Greeks by referencing questions that they raise which we still struggle to answer. Is there anything stable or permanent or is reality always changing? Are ethical values relative? Are we capable of understanding reality? What political community is most just? What is the proper relationship between human beings and the natural world? He often adds specific examples from those of everyday life to the thinking of later philosophers. The most interesting parts of the course for me were Professor Roochnik’s treatment of the pre-Socratics in such a way that I better understood how they were addressing significant philosophical questions (despite the talk of everything being constituted of water, fire, etc.) that carried over into Plato and Aristotle; how significant Socrates was in so radically changing the focus of philosophical inquiry (still wondering, however, how much of Socrates we know is “true” and how much Plato’s creation); Plato’s “obsession” with the Sophists, countering their relativism and position that man is the measure of all things, which Plato found “philosophically, morally, and politically pernicious” (Course Guidebook, page32); and the culmination of Greek philosophy in Aristotle’s impressively detailed inquiries into nature. Though Plato’s student for 20 years, Aristotle takes a distinctly different approach from him but is, like Plato, also in opposition the Sophists’ relativism. A telling point for me in the differences between the approaches of Plato and Aristotle is Professor Roochnik’s observation is that the former is more concerned with the question and the latter in the answer (and, in his common sense manner, going to great lengths to provide the answer). In these lectures, one gets a sense of continuity and development rather than treating each thinker as a discrete entity within Greek philosophy. I greatly enjoyed this course and recommend it highly for anyone interested in understanding Greek philosophy.
Date published: 2013-09-12
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Review This course will satiate your exceptional craving for philosophy. What more is there to say?
Date published: 2013-04-09
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Introduction to Greek Philosophy Professor Roochnik does a wonderful job explaining complex and important material. This series of lectures will make a substantial difference in the way the average person sees the Greeks of antiquity. And the professor has a way of bringing many of the classical concerns home to the modern/post-modern world. Plato would be pleased.
Date published: 2013-03-21
Rated 2 out of 5 by from Very Disappointing! This series of lectures is more a discussion of Ancient Greek Philosophy than an introduction to the topic. Professor Roochnik claims his approach is dialectical, or conversational, rather than pedagogical or didactic. This may be fine for an audience familiar with the subject matter but is confusing for others. Indeed, Professor Roochnik constantly shifts from the past to the present. He appears very intent in using Aristotle and Plato to contradict post-modern relativists. A striking feature of Professor Roochnik’s presentation is the shortness in humour. For instance, contrary to Professor McInerney in the ‘Age of Pericles’ Teach12 course, he takes Plato’s ‘Republic’ at face value. He seems to perceive no irony in the description of an ideal world without poets or monogamy. Certain mannerisms are annoying, including frequent references to the year 2001 when the lectures were recorded and a systematic mispronunciation of Pythagoras as ‘Prothagoras’. As an introduction to philosophy, the course ‘Philosophy of Mind’ by Professor Patrick Grim will prove a much better option.
Date published: 2012-12-27
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Loved this course Professor Roochnik did a stellar job elucidating the complexity, relevance, importance and historical context of Greek philosophy. He showed why and how the ideas the Greek philosophers grappled with continue to engage us today. Moreover, he was able to always respectfully explain even the most seemingly repugnant ideas and the reasoning behind each philosopher’s positions in ways that enlightened rather than alienated. I simply loved this course.
Date published: 2012-11-24
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Absolutely Wonderful Wonderful course. Every person in the world should start here. Philosophy can really help our world become a better place. I have now seen Athens, Delphi, and the theater of Dionysius all because of the Teaching Company. I have philosophized under the Acropolis. I have walked where Socrates taught. Thank you Teaching Company Thank you Tom Rollins. Know thyself! Moderation is best.
Date published: 2012-10-11
Rated 5 out of 5 by from A huge field, short and sweet DVD review. At present, however, only audio downloads are available. Lovers of philosophy or the history of thought will gladly welcome Dr Roochnik's AN INTRODUCTION TO GREEK PHILOSOPHY. At 24 lessons, it is short and lean. More importantly, it focuses on the thinking style of each philosopher, not just a laundry list of specific opinions. But what about other TTC clients? Is this just a hodgepodge of musty thoughts designed to clog the "amazing but true" spaces in your head? I can't answer this for you. I'm old enough to know that my brain will only retain what is useful. And in my case, the philosophers briefly introduced in this course are constantly referred to in the literary, scientific and religious works that interest me. So here goes! Roochnik presents his material in a "dialectical" fashion; as a conversation between four generations of Greek philosophers concerned with a few key themes. What is the nature of change in the natural world? Is there a hidden reality that sustains the surface changes we see every day? Or is everything in flux? And if so does this flux pursue an objective? All of this sounds like early physics. But these issues became truly explosive when applied to society. Being a seafaring, trading people, the Greeks soon encountered many ancient cultures with conflicting values and beliefs. Some Greek city states were also getting too large and complex to rely on tradition alone when resolving conflicts. Constitutions and contracts were in order. Was all this "flux" too? Beyond ephemeral popular opinions and political interests, was there an eternal morality at some deeper level or perhaps innate in everyone's mind? The four generations of philosophers are divided as follows: 1. The pre-Socratic philosophers (Thales, Heraclitus, Parmenides and some sophists such as Protagoras): The crux here is change in nature. But sophists introduced a new element; a breed of slippery "lawyer/politicians" bent on manipulating opinion through word play and emotion. The sophist believed in RELATIVISM: that we all bend "truth" to serve our interests, as do our leaders at the collective, political level. 2. Socrates (469-399 B.C.E.) was a social gadfly who verbally challenged the sophists at public occasions. Since he never wrote his own thoughts and survives almost exclusively in Plato's dialogues, it is very difficult to say where Socrates ends and Plato begins. 3. Plato (429-347 B.C.E.) modelled his vision of true knowledge on mathematics. Triangles, for example, exist both as clear ideas in our minds and as "imperfect" specimens in the real world. Similarly, behind all our concepts — be they natural, mathematical or moral — lies unchanging, perfect, super-sensible "forms" whose relationship to the world in flux is unclear. The proper role of philosophers is to guide ephemeral opinions by focussing on forms. Unsurprisingly, platonic leaders should have some philosophical training. 4. Aristotle (384-322 B.C.E.) was more empirical than Plato and modelled his thinking on biology. Every living thing and inanimate object is both an "actuality" (what we see) and a "potential" (what it could or will become given its nature). Except for the heavens where changeless perfection is the rule, every object is in the process of becoming, within limits. The nature of man also develops, but in a goal-oriented fashion. It seeks "happiness", a proper balance made possible through participation in hierarchically-ordered societies, and through avoidance of behavioral extremes. Some forms of slavery are therefore natural as is the superiority of men over women. Obviously, some of these opinions are abhorrent to modern values. To enjoy this course, you have to suspend your beliefs long enough to enter a different world. Empathy and historical imagination do not mean agreement. Actually, Socrates, Plato and Aristotle were very concerned with human values. And spent enormous efforts opposing relativism. Despite their many disagreements as to the mechanics of change, they believed that a universal, impersonal and purposive natural system governed everything "below deck". Our modern vision of this system is defined by the physics of extremes (cosmology and quantum) and its language is mathematics. The ancient Greeks understood things on a human scale through the analysis of words. And at that level, Roochnik believes, the ancients still have much to teach us about values . CONNECTION WITH OTHER TTC COURSES Roochnik's course closely follows his book "Retrieving the Ancients". His presentation style is not flamboyant, but he is very clear and never boring. Finally, his INTRODUCTION is an good lead-in to three other excellent TTC courses: PRACTICAL PHILOSOPHY: THE GRECO-ROMAN MORALISTS REASON & FAITH: PHILOSOPHY IN THE MIDDLE AGES GREAT SCIENTIFIC IDEAS THAT CHANGED THE WORLD Strongly recommended.
Date published: 2012-03-30
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Well presented and Succinct This is the best Greek philosophy course I've taken (I've taken courses at our local University as well as read books on my own). The narrative flows very nicely from the presocratics to Aristotle and themes that are established early on are expanded and developed as the course progresses. In general, I think taking individual courses on Plato, Aristotle or the presocratics in isolation misses the overall theme of this era. I recommend this course for anyone wishing to expand their knowledge in philosophy as many modern philosophers reference back to these great thinkers.
Date published: 2011-08-18
Rated 5 out of 5 by from One of the very best! I've enjoyed over twenty courses from the Teaching Company and this is one of the very best. The course is superbly organized. The thinkers are clearly presented as individuals and Professor Roochnik involves all of them in a constant dialogue as the course develops. People new to philosophy will find the course extremely helpful. Those with background in philosophy will be delighted by the depth of coverage and the provocative examples and questions. So gripping are the lectures that I've watched two, even three, in a row rather than pause for a moment. Don't miss this course!
Date published: 2011-06-01
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Masterful A first rate introduction to western philosophy. Professor Roochnik's dialectic approach is rather different from the standard historical based introduction and this proves to be a major strength. At the end of this course you will be wanting to study more about this subject.
Date published: 2011-01-20
Rated 5 out of 5 by from best course ever I have bought 40 Teaching Company courses so far. This is the best, and Great Minds of Western... is a close second. Professot Roochnik presents a very well prepared course in a very engaging and pleasing manner.
Date published: 2010-12-19
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Extremely engaging! I have studied over 75 of these courses and I can tell you that Dr. Roochnik and this course are one of the top 2 or 3 overall His knowledge and delivery are exceptional. He truly makes the ancient Greek philosophers and their relevance to modern man come alive in his interesting presentation.
Date published: 2010-11-23
Rated 3 out of 5 by from A Swing and a Miss Audio CD. There is nothing particularly objectionable to this course, but it is not up to TTC standards. Dr. Roochnik speaks in a somnambulant style and the course adds nothing to the already packed TTC repertoire.
Date published: 2010-07-02
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Superb Presentation This course on the Ancient Greek Philosophers was superb. I have had a decades-long interest in this subject, yet it was not until I listened to this series, that I felt I finally had a grasp on what their thinking was all about. Professor Roochnik never seems to be in a hurry; his voice is almost soothing as he clarifies even the seemingly smallest detail, showing how they have tremendous significance. I can tell that this professor is not just doing this as a way to make a living, but is thoroughly immersed in his subject. He has sparked my interest, and now I want to become a Socrates-Plato-Aristotle expert myself. He is truly amazing, and so is this course.
Date published: 2010-05-24
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Greek as a Treat In 1993, Penguin published a book based on a British TV series by Peter France entitled, Greek as a Treat which as its subtitle indicates is an introduction to the classics. It is a wonderful book and like the book Dr R's course is a wondeful entree into the Greek thought and everything else Greek. Past reviewers have catalogued the TC's menu of Greek courses: the dark ages, the light ages, the Age of Pericles - the TC does the Greeks from when they were a reality until they became a legacy: history, wars, politics, personalities, literature, and philosophy. Professor R gives a thorough, understandable, and delightful presentation of what the Greeks thought from the fragments of the pre-Socratics to the Aristotelian tomes. If you are wondering just where to get started in your study of the Greeks, start here; if you are looking for an entry into the study of western thought, start here - this is a foundational course. The course is not just an educational gem, it's a treat. I highly recomend this course, the many thoughtful reviews - if you need a road map of TC's Greek course read the review of April 7, 2009 - and, finally, if you still read, certainly give Mr France's book a try. Greek as a treat might sound a bit oxymoronic but if you treat yourself to this course, you will be treated very well indeed.
Date published: 2010-05-11
Rated 2 out of 5 by from UnevenHistory;TendentiousPhilosophy;NotRecommended I see that prior reviews have been outstanding, but I must respectfully disagree. My reasons: - This is not a balanced survey. It is highly selective and tendentious, emphasizing and privileging the Platonic attack on the pre-Socratics and the Sophists, and discussing Aristotle primarily as a response to Plato. Prof. Roochnik does make this clear at the start of the Course Guidebook, but it is not clear at all from the online description. Further, most of Plato's Dialogues are not discussed at all, even to give a brief overview, and his longest, last, and perhaps greatest writing, the Laws, is not even mentioned. - Prof. Roochnik again and again says something to the effect that a particular philosophical view may sound naive or silly or just plain wrong to our modern ears, but then goes on to insist it is nevertheless "deep" or "profound" or "important" when properly appreciated. Well, no. Most of the substantive philosophy discussed really is naive or silly or wrong, or even offensive. - An important distinction must be made between a thinker's importance in intellectual history and the relevance of his ideas to the issues of today. The Greek philosophers were geniuses of great originality who inspired and shaped the ensuing millennia of Western philosophical thought. However, few if any of their specific ideas (the world as "Being" or "Becoming"; the desirability of philosophers as kings; the heavens and the earth as separate physical realms; the Platonic theory of Forms; slavery as a natural and appropriate condition; etc., etc.) are of any relevance to the problems we so desperately need to come to terms with in today's world. - Two crucial areas of Greek philosophical thought, Stoicism and Epicureanism, are left out entirely. Ironically, it is these schools that have the greatest relevance to the problems of modernity. - Most tendentious and offensive, to my mind, is Prof. Roochnik's hatchet job on the Sophists. It is crucial to keep in mind that most of what we know of them is provided by their enemies, Plato and Aristotle. And yes, they taught rhetoric, the art of persuasion. And yes, they believed that many truths are relative, not absolute. But Prof. Roochnik makes it sound like rhetoric - being able to speak well - is a bad thing: "Protagoras said that both sides of every issue can be argued for. This is similar to saying that there are no mistakes." (From the Course Guidebook.) Nonsense! Since ideas don't come pre-packaged in "true" and "false" containers, it is through the give and take of rhetoric that we develop our views and deepen our understanding. To compare this to the proposition that there are no mistakes is an incoherent non-sequitur. - Even more crucially, Prof. Roochnik treats relativism as the view that all perspectives are equal, so no moral issue can ever be decided. He states "According to the relativist,...there are no wrong answers." This extreme formulation (often called "vicious relativism") is absurd on its face, and is held by essentially no one. It can certainly not be attributed - based on what evidence we have - to the Sophists. The fact that they taught others to speak effectively in no way entails that they believed that all outcomes were of equal worth. - Finally, Prof. Roochnik concludes that "Although the technological achievements of modern science are extraordinary, they run the risk of blinding us to what it means to be human. Aristotle...keeps us connected to human life as it is actually lived. This valuable lesson is desperately needed in the contemporary world." This is like saying that the study of nutrition runs the risk of blinding us to the importance of getting a good night's sleep. These are two separate areas, and there is nothing preventing us from paying appropriate heed to both! So - there are many good reasons to study Greek philosophy, most especially as a fascinating and fundamental aspect of intellectual history. This course however, does not provide a broad and balanced overview, is highly selective and tendentious, and cannot be recommended as an introduction.
Date published: 2010-05-09
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