Masters of Greek Thought: Plato, Socrates, and Aristotle

Course No. 4460
Professor Robert C. Bartlett, Ph.D.
Boston College
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Course No. 4460
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Course Overview

For more than two millennia, philosophers have grappled with life's most profound issues. It is easy to forget, however, that these "eternal" questions are not eternal at all; rather, they once had to be asked for the first time. It was the Athenian citizen and philosopher Socrates who first asked these questions in the 5th century B.C. "Socrates," notes award-winning Professor Robert C. Bartlett, "was responsible for a fundamentally new way of philosophizing": trying to understand the world by reason.

Masters of Greek Thought: Plato, Socrates, and Aristotle, a 36-lecture course taught by Professor Bartlett, provides you with a detailed analysis of the golden age of Athenian philosophy and the philosophical consequences that occurred when Socrates—followed first by his student Plato and then by Plato's own student Aristotle—permanently altered our approach to the most important questions humanity can pose.

What Was the "Socratic Turn"?

The Socratic break with earlier philosophy was a shift in thought that led to some of the most important and intellectually exciting concepts in all of philosophy. Socrates' influence on a new generation of philosophers, most importantly, Plato and Aristotle, ensured that his ideas would change the face of philosophy.

Prior to Socrates' new approach, philosophy was concerned primarily with the project of "natural philosophy": a prescientific study of nature and the physical world. Professor Bartlett begins the course with a discussion of how Socrates came to the "Socratic turn" that veered away from the study of natural science and toward the scrutiny of moral opinion. You recognize how crucial this turn was because it became the fulcrum around which a new era of philosophy turne. Never again could philosophers return to their ancient role of merely attempting to grasp the natural order of a world previously ascribed to the planning or whimsy of the gods.

The new arguments that Socrates, Plato, and Aristotle posed were intended not for other philosophers but for anyone seeking to live a thoughtful and attentive life. Throughout the course, you come to see how their inquiries about the fundamental meanings and implications of ideas like justice, virtue, and happiness pushed their fellow citizens to ponder the roles such ideas played in their daily lives and in society. They even asked their peers to consider whether these and other questions were ones that anyone could hope to answer.

See Socrates through Plato's Eyes

Unfortunately, the thinker who forever altered the course of philosophy never actually wrote down his words. So how can we hope to know what Socrates, whom many believe to be the foundational thinker of Western philosophy, really believed?

The answer, Professor Bartlett shows, lies in the fact that much of Socrates' philosophy is captured in the writings of his contemporaries and followers. As a means of leading you to a sharper picture of the real Socrates, the course introduces you to the writings of three key figures:

  • Xenophon: the great thinker and military commander who wrote a series of Socratic sayings that survives to this day
  • Aristophanes: whose comic play Clouds is both a send-up and a thoughtful critique of Socrates that is crucial to understanding his philosophical evolution
  • Plato: a brilliant young man from a wealthy and politically active family who became Socrates' best student and whose works, written in the form of dialogues between two or more persons, feature Socrates as the protagonist

Plato, in particular, is an essential source of information about Socrates. Over the course of a dozen lectures, you explore the wide variety of Plato's brilliant dialogues and how they reflect the core of Socrates' philosophy of morality and justice:

  • Alcibiades I, which depicts Socrates' reasoning why the young Alcibiades needs him
  • Symposium, in which seven partiers discuss the nature of love
  • Republic, perhaps Plato's best-known work, which focuses on the definition and nature of justice
  • Protagoras, in which Socrates and Protagoras argue whether virtue can be taught
  • Gorgias, which depicts an argument over who is more important, the philosopher or the rhetorician
  • Meno, which seeks to come to a general definition of virtue

Professor Bartlett then turns the discussion to those Platonic dialogues that cover the well-known trial and execution of Socrates at the hands of the Athenian state. By examining Euthyphro, Apology of Socrates, and Crito as a whole, you develop a deeper understanding of the defense strategy Socrates chose, why he chose it, and how it ultimately failed him. You also review whether Plato's sympathetic defense of his teacher was successful in the long run.

Aristotle's Philosophy of Human Affairs

Throughout Masters of Greek Thought, Professor Bartlett guides you deep into nuanced philosophical discussions while keeping the thread of the arguments both clear and exhilarating. This becomes especially important when you focus on the third iconic philosopher this course covers: Aristotle.

A student of Plato's famed Academy, Aristotle did more than anyone to establish a comprehensive system of philosophy in the West. His work encompassed the fields of morality, politics, aesthetics, logic, science, rhetoric, theology, metaphysics, and more. Scholars today believe that only about a third of his work survives.

In keeping with the theme of the course, Professor Bartlett, who has translated selected works by Xenophon and Plato from the original Greek, focuses your attention on Aristotle's work on the philosophy of human affairs. You delve into two of the philosopher's major writings:

  • Nicomachean Ethics, which is a stunning approach to questions of virtue and moral character
  • Politics, which continues the ideas of individual and interpersonal ethics first developed in Nichomachean Ethics and discusses their logical extension into the governance of the city-state

Learn from Socrates and His Heirs

A distinguished teacher and translator and the recipient of numerous teaching awards, including an award for excellence in teaching in the social sciences from Emory University's Center for Teaching and Curriculum, Professor Bartlett keeps his presentation of these three great thinkers not only clear but also accessible, unintimidating, and relevant to each of us today.

The insights Masters of Greek Thought offers into the minds of these three foundational figures of Western philosophy and the care with which Professor Bartlett unpacks their words bring the ideas of Socrates, Plato, and Aristotle into sharp focus for you. More than 2,000 years later, you find their questions on the nature of justice, virtue, and happiness pushing you to ponder the roles such ideas play in your daily life and in the life of your society.

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36 lectures
 |  Average 30 minutes each
  • 1
    Socrates and His Heirs
    You explore the key innovations and insights of Socrates, his student Plato, and Plato's student Aristotle. For all their originality, Plato and Aristotle were deeply indebted to Socrates, who was responsible for a fundamentally new way of philosophizing. x
  • 2
    The Socratic Revolution
    Some key concepts necessary to understanding Socrates are explained, including early ideas of philosophy—especially in its relation to nature—and Socrates's groundbreaking shift to moral-political questions. This lecture then turns to ancient Greek comedy and Aristophanes's Clouds. x
  • 3
    Aristophanes's Comic Critique of Socrates
    Aristophanes's comedic but wise treatment of Socrates in Clouds reveals two fundamental criticisms: (1) Socrates's failure to recognize the dangers to family and the political community that his study of nature represents has made him imprudent, and (2) his claims to know more than he does. x
  • 4
    Xenophon's Recollections of Socrates
    Since Socrates didn't write down his philosophy, we know him only through the work of others. Of the four writings Xenophon devoted to Socrates, Memorabilia (or Recollections) attempts to establish Socrates's idea of justice—obedience to the law and helpfulness to others. x
  • 5
    Xenophon and Socratic Philosophy
    The best evidence of the difficulties Socrates faced in turning his philosophy away from nature and toward moral and political concerns comes from Oeconomicus, Xenophon's account of the fateful day when Socrates began his intensive examination of moral opinions, especially regarding beliefs about the gods. x
  • 6
    Plato’s Socrates and the Platonic Dialogue
    The most important source of our knowledge of Socrates is his student Plato, who featured his teacher in almost all of his 35 extant dialogues. The lecture discusses how to read this unique literary form and considers some first impressions of Plato's Socrates, particularly his characteristic irony. x
  • 7
    Socrates as Teacher—Alcibiades
    The study of Plato and his presentation of Socrates begins with Socrates as teacher, seen here in four dialogues devoted to Socrates's mutually disappointing relationship with the historical figure Alcibiades. This lecture focuses on Alcibiades I and on Alcibiades's famous speech about Socrates, recorded in Plato's Symposium. x
  • 8
    Socrates and Justice—Republic, Part 1
    Plato asks the all-important question, "What is justice?" He shows that the search for an answer is not a mere exercise in word play but requires a response to those who think that justice, however defined, is bad for the just themselves. x
  • 9
    The Case against Justice—Republic, Part 2
    This lecture sets forth the full challenge faced by Socrates in defending justice. It is a challenge that requires him to respond to three different arguments against justice—including two presented in an effort to elicit Socrates's strongest case for justice. x
  • 10
    Building the Best City—Republic, Part 3
    Socrates proposes to discover what justice is and whether it is good by building the best city "in speech," believing that locating political justice will then make it easier to find individual justice. But can the two be made into a whole? x
  • 11
    Philosophers as Kings
    This lecture focuses on the chief subjects of books 5–7 of Republic, including the call for "philosopher-kings"; the doctrine of the Ideas; and the famous metaphor of the Cave. All are part of Socrates's ultimate aim in Plato's Republic: a defense of philosophy. x
  • 12
    Socrates as Teacher of Justice
    From the beginning of Republic, the rhetorician Thrasymachus praised injustice over justice, the latter fit only for the foolish and weak. Socrates then considers injustice and prepares the way for his own comparison of the two—his final answer to Thrasymachus. x
  • 13
    Socrates versus the Sophists
    Plato often informs us about Socrates by contrasting him with his competitors, the sophists and the rhetoricians. This lecture begins the discussion on the Platonic dialogue named after the most famous sophist of antiquity, Protagoras, in which he and Socrates wage a subtle and intense verbal duel. x
  • 14
    Protagoras Undone
    This lecture concludes the discussion of Protagoras with Socrates's complex response to Protagoras's justly famous argument, revealing that the sophist's "sophisticated" contempt for justice and noble self-sacrifice cannot be squared with his genuine admiration of courage and the courageous, making him a more moral man than he realizes. x
  • 15
    Socrates versus the Rhetoricians
    From Socrates's encounter with the day's most famous sophist, you turn to the first of his three conversations with its most famous rhetorician, Gorgias. The two define rhetoric—persuasion without actual teaching—before Gorgias offers a demonstration and Socrates a response. x
  • 16
    Rhetoric and Tyranny
    With the arrival of the brash Polus and his arguments about using rhetoric to gain power, Plato turns Gorgias toward the question of the goodness of justice. Socrates demonstrates that Polus retains a lingering respect for justice and has not thought through his assertions. x
  • 17
    Callicles and the Problem of Justice
    You look at the final part of Gorgias and Socrates's conversation with Callicles, who sees justice in the strong dominating the weak and harshly criticizes both philosophy and Socrates. The dialogue concludes with Socrates's criticism of the hedonism that guides Callicles's life. x
  • 18
    What Is Virtue? Meno, Part 1
    You take up this question in Meno, named after a student of Gorgias who came to Socrates to learn how virtue is acquired. This lecture begins the dialogue's longest part, where Meno, at Socrates's insistence, must first learn what virtue is. x
  • 19
    Can Virtue Be Taught? Meno, Part 2
    A discussion of the "recollection doctrine"—the idea that learning is innate knowledge recalled—prompts Meno not to give up his quest for a definition of virtue, which Plato finally allows is teachable ... perhaps. x
  • 20
    The Trial of Socrates I—Euthyphro
    This lecture opens a treatment of the four-dialogue sequence devoted to Socrates's trial, conviction, and execution. It focuses on Euthyphro's main arguments concerning piety and how they reveal the general approach Socrates took to the challenge that piety poses to the philosophic life. x
  • 21
    The Trial of Socrates II—Apology, Part 1
    Plato's Apology of Socrates is probably the most widely read document in Western philosophy. In addition to learning of Socrates's attempts to refute the charges against him, you also consider his revealing account of what first prompted him to become the philosopher notorious for cross-examining others. x
  • 22
    The Trial of Socrates III—Apology, Part 2
    You look at Socrates's claim that he is just, not only in that he broke no law, but in the higher sense of dedication to others. The lecture concludes by examining Socrates's remarks after his conviction and sentencing and reviewing the long-term success of Plato's defense of him. x
  • 23
    The Trial of Socrates IV—Crito
    Crito takes place in Socrates's jail cell, where his old friend or companion, Crito, argues for his escape. You look at Crito's arguments and Socrates's responses and conclude with suggestions on why Socrates ultimately chooses to submit to execution. x
  • 24
    The Socratic Revolution Revisited—Phaedo
    This lecture discusses Socrates's arguments for the immortality of the soul and his vital autobiographical remarks to show why Socrates turned to so-called Socratic philosophizing. Both discussions help us better grasp the nature of the change that Socrates brought about. x
  • 25
    Aristotle and the Socratic Legacy
    You delve into the life and thought of Plato's greatest student, exploring the relationship between Socrates, Plato, and Aristotle; Aristotle's role as guide to some of today's most fundamental human questions; and the demands posed by his challenging style of writing. x
  • 26
    The Problem of Happiness—Ethics 1
    The study of Aristotle's political philosophy begins with his penetrating account of our longing for happiness, the final end of our strivings. It's an account that leaves much to ponder, particularly the sway that chance or fortune holds over our lives. x
  • 27
    Introduction to Moral Virtue—Ethics 2
    In introducing virtue in general, this lecture explores its two subspecies, moral and intellectual virtue—a distinction introduced by Aristotle. It then turns to the most famous part of Aristotle's ethical teaching, that of each virtue being understood as a mean between extremes. x
  • 28
    The Principal Moral Virtues—Ethics 3–5
    Aristotle identifies eleven moral virtues, each associated with its corresponding vices. The focus here is on three of those virtues—courage, magnanimity, and justice—with the latter two representing the peak of moral virtue. x
  • 29
    Prudence, Continence, Pleasure—Ethics 6–7
    This lecture is devoted to the intellectual virtue of prudence, or practical judgment; the somewhat strange capacity called "continence," or "self-control"; and, finally, a discussion of pleasure, the case for which Aristotle considers at length as the proper goal of human life. x
  • 30
    Friendship—Ethics 8–9
    Aristotle devotes two books of Ethics to friendship. The investigation focuses on three issues: What are the various kinds of friendship, and which is best? Why does Aristotle's inquiry take a decidedly political turn? And how does Aristotle resolve the tensions between friendship's selfish and selfless aspects? x
  • 31
    Philosophy and the Good Life—Ethics 10
    The final book of Aristotle's study of character and the good life continues his analysis of pleasure—a pleasant life—as the greatest good, and of the role intellectual or contemplative virtue plays in making such a life. x
  • 32
    The Political Animal—Politics 1–2
    You look at Aristotle's case for the importance of examining political life, trace his famous but complex argument that humans are by nature "political animals," and consider his critique of various regimes, actual and imagined, that have claimed to be best—including that of Plato's Republic. x
  • 33
    Justice and the Common Good—Politics 3
    This lecture discusses Aristotle's inquiry into the citizen and citizenship; his analysis of a regime's relation to justice and the common good; and Aristotle's account of kingship, to show how such inquiry, analysis, and account of kingship form a sustained argument about the limits of justice. x
  • 34
    Aristotle's Political Science—Politics 4–6
    In what are sometimes called the "practical" books of Politics, Aristotle sets aside his standards for ideal regimes to analyze the actual regimes and statesmen most likely to be encountered and offers some advice even tyrannies might heed. x
  • 35
    The Best Regime—Politics 7–8
    The final books of Aristotle's Politics are devoted to the best regime, the regime "in accord with what one would pray for." You look at its goals, makeup, and nature, as well as education's crucial role in making such a regime a reality. x
  • 36
    Concluding Reflections
    This lecture reviews the course and the innovations in Western philosophy that began with Socrates and continued with Plato and Aristotle. You see how the three together constitute one of the highest peaks of Western thought, one that richly repays the efforts made to ascend it. x

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Video DVD
DVD Includes:
  • 36 lectures on 6 DVDs
  • 144-page printed course guidebook
  • Downloadable PDF of the course guidebook

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Course Guidebook Details:
  • 144-page printed course guidebook
  • Suggested readings
  • Questions to consider
  • Timeline

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Your professor

Robert C. Bartlett

About Your Professor

Robert C. Bartlett, Ph.D.
Boston College
Dr. Robert C. Bartlett is the Behrakis Professor of Hellenic Political Thought at Boston College. He holds an M.A. in Classics and a Ph.D. in Political Science from Boston College. Professor Bartlett's principal research concerns the history of moral and political philosophy, with special attention to the political thought of classical antiquity. His books are The Idea of Enlightenment: A Postmortem Study (University of...
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Masters of Greek Thought: Plato, Socrates, and Aristotle is rated 3.7 out of 5 by 47.
Rated 1 out of 5 by from Was Not Engaging Enough I just could not get into this course even though I was really excited to learn more of these three giants. I listened multiple times thinking maybe it was me and maybe it still is but I just could not claim to have learned much. I recommend "An Introduction to Greek Philosophy".
Date published: 2016-07-13
Rated 3 out of 5 by from i don't enjoy audio only presentations.... it's probably good information, but had i realized (my bad) that it was not a video course, i wouldn't have purchased it. after a couple of lectures it went into my xx folder.
Date published: 2016-06-18
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Useful counterpoint for me at least I found this course useful as a counterpoint to my undergraduate course, though I'm not sure it’s the right first course for those interested in philosophy. (Disclaimer: I bill myself as a mathematical Platonist, but that term is not terribly accurate.) Professor Bartlett’s lectures were valuable to me in making up the gaps in my education, with his emphasis on politics, theology, and history; in particular, starting with Aristophanes and Xenophon was brilliant, though I do wish he’d at least mentioned the title of Libanius’ “On the Silence of Socrates.” My professor was dismissive of Xenophon, and overly focussed on modern philosophical concerns. So Professor Bartlett’s focus on the Socratic Turn (away from much of why Whitehead called Western philosophy a series of footnotes to Plato) was valuable for me, but renders it unsuitable as a general introduction to ancient philosophy. His exposition of how much Plato’s metaphysics relied on his theology is also a useful warning to those tempted to apply Plato to modern analytic philosophy.
Date published: 2015-05-18
Rated 4 out of 5 by from A very good intro to Greek philosophy I listened to this course after I had struggled to read a couple of Plato's dialogues. The structure of the course and the delivery of Prof Bartlett's was exactly what I was looking for. After completing the course, I was able to re-read the dialogues and gain much more from them. If you want to read the works of Plato and Aristotle and have not had previous instruction, I strongly recommend this course to you. If you are very familiar with these works you may get less from the course. The only reason I did not give it five stars, is that I reserve that rating for truly exceptional courses.
Date published: 2015-01-25
Rated 2 out of 5 by from Disappointed I felt the professor presented the material in a dry fashion, and didn't make it at all entertaining. It starts off with contemporary reviews of Socrates' theories without really explaining the theories first. So overall, the content and presentation were very poor, compared to the numerous other courses I have purchased and enjoyed very much.
Date published: 2015-01-15
Rated 5 out of 5 by from A Journey of the Mind Format: DVD. Knowing very little about these Greek philosophers (other than scattered quotes), I embarked on Masters of Greek Thought, a journey of the mind. I understood that it would be an introduction and would cover a lot of territory; I expected an evolutionary, comparative presentation. As such, I was very pleased with this course: an introduction to the relative and symbiotic thought of these great philosophers. Dr. Bartlett is a polished, thoughtful and well organized speaker, reflected in the flow and logic of the course. He speaks well; often stopping to summarize and clearly stating the drift of the path to be followed. Dr. Bartlett is a scholar and is in full command of the material. Since very little graphics are shown (he he clearly states when he is quoting), an audio format would be perfectly acceptable to enjoy this course. To summarize, I feel that I now have a firm grounding in the evolutionary thought of these great men, men who laid the foundations of Western culture -over 2,400 years ago. We contemporary humans are still confronted by the same issues! My best, jkh
Date published: 2015-01-06
Rated 1 out of 5 by from A mile wide/an inch deep I really wanted to like this course but by lecture 12 I gave up. I guess this really wasn’t what I wanted. I wanted an in-depth look into the minds of Socrates, Plato, and Aristotle but it felt more like a book review. The teacher has a nice speaking voice and I’m sure some will like this but it wasn’t for me. As I stated in the topic sentence “A mile wide/an inch deep” is how I felt this series could be summed up. I wanted more than just three minutes on Plato’s Cave. I wanted more on the shadows of more perfect things. This was like a book club review of Ancient Greek Philosophy. As a teacher myself I know the dangers of adding too much trivial detail. This professor should really scale back and focus.
Date published: 2014-09-05
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Absolutely Absorbing Having completed the course covering the sweep of Western Philosophy I was really interested in a specific course on this trio of masters. I was absolutely hooked from the very first lecture. Professor Bartlett is blessed with a voice and style of lecturing which enthrals. The course content was superb in covering Socrates and his journey from someone who left behind exploration of the cosmos to moral philosophy. This fascinating episode is explicated with reference to the works of Aristophenes, Xenophon as well as within the dialogues of Plato. What is particularly helpful is the way Professor Bartlett critically assesses aspects of the thoughts of each of the great thinkers. He challenges us to challenge them which makes for delicious intellectual exploration. The lively discussion of Aristotle''s political thought and the sometimes lack of clarity of his definition of virtue is enlightening. I would love this Professor to produce a further course on just Aristotle perhaps over 24 lectures as well as a specific course covering the more metaphysical aspects of Plato's thought in particular. If there is one quibble it is the relative brevity of the course guidebook which ideally would have had more detailed summaries. But still a 5 star course and absolutely recommended for anyone interested in this most important triumvirate of Western Philosophers.
Date published: 2014-04-16
Rated 5 out of 5 by from I am glad to have bought this course, after other courses in Greek philosophy by Professors Sugrue, Roochnik and Robinson all 5 stars. I enjoyed Prof. Bartlett's presentation, his course is well organized, he starts each lecture by a brief summary of his previous lecture and outlines what he wishes to accomplish in the current lecture. I particularly enjoyed his allegory of the cave explanation about shedding or rethinking our pre-conceptions of thought, the visual aid of the myth gave me a new insight
Date published: 2013-04-13
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Excellent I studied this material extensively in graduate school. While I did not, in the end, pursue an academic career, I never lost interest in the subject matter. I have been familiar with Bartlett for a while through his excellent work on Xenophon, Plato and Aristotle. In fact, to me THE most valuable philosophic book has always been Aristotle's Ethics and Bartlett's translation, which only came out a few years ago, is the one I have been waiting half a lifetime for since first reading the Loeb as an undergraduate. For this course, Bartlett has selected all the “obvious” choices. The one exception is Xenophon, who is still neglected by most scholars but who deserves the prominence he receives here. Otherwise, these are all the warhorses, with some possible deviations, e.g., Symposium is touched on but not treated at length while Protagoras and Meno get extensive treatment. Bartlett says at the beginning that the course should be of value to someone already familiar with the material just as much as to someone who only heard of Socrates yesterday. I found that to be absolutely true. He presumes no prior knowledge on the part of the listener and yet goes into enough detail to keep someone like me rapt for the entire course. I was able to “re-learn” much that I had forgotten and learn many new things beside. I would eagerly buy another course from Bartlett. My only complaint about this one was that it was too short. I’d like him to tackle ALL of Plato and Xenophon. For starters.
Date published: 2013-04-09
Rated 2 out of 5 by from A snooze After completing 10 other Great Courses, this was the first one that I couldn't finish. The presentation is well organized and Professor Bartlett is an excellent speaker, but I found that the content was repetitive and contained excessive detail. Every lecture started to sound the same. If you are REALLY into this subject, i.e. a philosophy major, then you may enjoy it.
Date published: 2012-11-26
Rated 4 out of 5 by from a very good oeverview I purchased this -- in hopes of putting together some "vague recollections", and past quotes, and frankly, for general knowledge. this course succeeded. maybe it was too much to hope for -- and maybe it was impossible, but I had hoped for some greater "explanation" or unification of these 3 profound thought individuals I expected this in 36 lectures??? People spend 36 years reading ONE of these great thinkers -- but I had hoped, wished and crossed my fingers. I got a good summary -- but I did not get the unifying theme of all 3 -- which is maybe MY fault for hoping and wishing for something that is not possible Nonetheless, for those who do not have years to spend reading these DENSE works -- this course is WELL worth the time and trivial cost
Date published: 2012-09-04
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Just wonderful, don't listen to the others This is a wonderful course. You have to get past the speaker meaning you have to get used to his style but he is wonderful. It is a good introduction to the philosophy of Socrates and the other Greek Thinkers. The DVD version is also very good.
Date published: 2012-07-14
Rated 2 out of 5 by from Disappointing There is a lack of cohesion in the presentation of the material. The profundity of the philosopher's thinking is rarely addressed and the overall presentation is confusing. It is the weakest Great Course I have been exposed to to date.
Date published: 2012-06-10
Rated 1 out of 5 by from Bad speaker, poor content This was the most disappointing course that I have purchased so far. The speaker is terrible and seems to have some hidden humor that only he is in on. His mannerisms are so bad and distracting that I could not look at the screen while he was talking. All of the discussions were missing the content that was necessary to understand what he was trying to get across if it was anything other than that he really liked whatever it was he was pushing towards. Most of the discussions seemed to be prefaced with a comment like "he was one of the best, some would say the best, of all times". I finally just gave up.
Date published: 2012-06-04
Rated 2 out of 5 by from Dr. Bartlett hides certain facts Dr. Bartlett seems to intentionally conceal facts about Xenophone"s Symposium and to a lesser exent his Memorabilia, such as that Socrates specifically and pointedly advises men to avoid kissing beautiful men and boys rather than, as Dr. Bartlett coyly says "beautiful people." As well, he tells us about the Symposium but carefully avoids telling us that the entire point of it is intended to promote heterosexual love and marriage over homoeroticism. as well, Dr. Bartlett doesn't seem to know what the word "sacrifice" means, i.e., giving up something for something else that one wants more, such as sacrificing one's queen so as to win a game of chess. Instead, hseems to think that it means simply giving something up.
Date published: 2012-05-17
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Thorough, Scholarly, and Just a Bit Boring The presentation's a little stilted and, be forewarned, two thirds of the content is on Plato, which doesn't bother me but might others. The professor's main interest is in political philosophy, and it shows. Still, the material is lovingly presented by someone who has obviously spent many years considering it. I have heard many other presentations on these philosophers, but most of the others have considered them as mere progenitors, not as philosophers whose views are still relevant. That is the real value of this course. It treats them carefully and with respect, and for that alone it is worth the purchase price and time spent.
Date published: 2010-11-16
Rated 2 out of 5 by from Great Subject-Only OK Presentation I have enjoyed dozens of courses from this outstanding company. Unfortunately, this one was a disappointment. I bought it after being enthralled by Prof. Rufus Fears's discussion of Plato and Socrates in another course. This course plodded along. It was long on insignificant details (almost as if the professor was afraid to be criticized for leaving something out) and short on analysis. And his constant use of "I" and "me" and "my" was distracting. A good teacher says "Next, we will examine..." not "Next I will address..." Perhaps I was "spoiled" by Professor Fears's making ancient thought relevant to modern living, but my hope for similar treatment in this series went unmet. I was able to struggle through the first 12 lectures because I was so anxious to learn about these pillars of modern philosophy and finally gave up.
Date published: 2010-08-16
Rated 4 out of 5 by from A Great Course on some Truly Great Books Robert Bartlett's course on the writings of Plato, Socrates, and Aristotle is a real gem. I think it complements both of David Roochnik's courses, first on Greek philosophy and then on Plato's Republic, and Bartlett's is on that same level as these, it's that well done. I think that courses on these ancient Greek writings are especially valuable, because they can supply a lifetime of learning, in serving as great reference material for when you can actually manage to spare the time and energy and read the original source material itself. These lectures all serve as fine guides for each and every book they cover. Bartlett is always careful to remind the viewer that he is giving his own opinions, so that in this way, he is encouraging us to all take up the actual text, then think and decide for ourselves on these issues, which is of course what the authors themselves would have wanted as well! I think the material covered here is not intended for the viewer to just give themselves a simple pat on the back for studying the thoughts and words of these famous figures. Rather, the effort is made to show that there is relevance here to our own lives, whether individually, within a community, or globally. In that sense, these are truly great courses that anyone can attempt to understand. Perhaps there is less of an emphasis on right and wrong, and more on being aware of the questions themselves, how they were addressed then, since, and contemporarily. Bartlett does a wonderful job at bringing out the highlights of the texts discussed, including pointing out flaws in the very arguments made by Socrates, Plato, and Aristotle themselves, where appropriate. Simply put, this is a great course on some of the truly great books from the Western canon.
Date published: 2010-07-05
Rated 3 out of 5 by from Fine on the Surface, Murky in the Depths There are reasons to like this course. The professor is bright, well organized, and speaks clearly. Further, there are many elements that are well handled. For example, the discussion of pre-Socratic thought and the meaning and importance of the Socratic revolution is incisive and well done. Beginning the discussion of Socrates with Aristophanes's Clouds and then Xenophon is a smart decision that sets the student up nicely to understand Socrates and the development of his thinking. The lessons on the trial of Socrates are reasonably well constructed. The professor generally does a nice job of laying out the goals of each lesson and disciplining the course around the clear goals. One feels satisfied about "covering the material."And it's good material - to be sure. As with most nice things in life, how can one go wrong in the study of the three great Greek philosophers? The problem with the course, in my estimation, is that when the subject gets to the deeper and most important realms of thought, the professor gets wobbly and unmoored. A telltale sign is his sudden and abundant use of phrases such as "to repeat,..." and "in other words,...". One gets the idea at these critical junctures that the professor is unsure himself of whether he's got the point right and whether he's conveying it well. For example, as the course approaches and reaches the climax of the lessons on Plato's Republic, the Professor meanders unsatisfactorily through the Myth of Er and a discussion of immortality and justice. His remarks are surely as elusive as he claims Plato's notions of justice to be. I recall reading the Protagoras many years ago, and I now feel compelled to read it again. But, sadly, one motivating reason is to try to clear up what Plato was getting at in his treatment of courage. I am utterly unclear of the teaching from lesson 14 in this course. As a final illustration of the weakness of the course "in the depths, " I would point to the professor's discussion of Aristotle's view of pleasure. He raises the topic in several lectures, leading the student to expect a definitive and deep treatment in the lesson on the final book of the Ethics. After a good bit of talk on what pleasure is not, the professor finally gets to the issue. But again the teaching gets murky, and the professor is off to other matters. In sum, the topic is great. The professor is bright and has a good manner. The course is structured nicely. I fear that you, like I, may get frustrated and be left unfulfilled in the depths, which is where one should get the greatest satisfaction from these extraordinary thinkers.
Date published: 2010-04-15
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Socrates, Plato, Aristotle--what's the big deal? It is this question that I hoped to see answered in this course. And on the whole it was, although I found myself filling in answers as I went along. Since this is a philosophy course, that might be the point. I found it easy to get caught up in the individual questions and issues at each point in the course, and to lose track of the larger picture to which they belong: that this is the first record we have of such questions being asked directly, and answered with considerable success. Poets and storytellers have always shown us their philosophies and (implicitly) challenged us to accept them or answer them. Orson Scott Card goes so far as to assert that a writer necessarily reveals his deepest beliefs about the world in his work. (I think he's right.) But it took a Socrates--THIS Socrates--to put the questions and answers on trial; it took a Plato to make them come to life. And since then we have asked them, and answered them, over and over. To lecture about Aristotle must be difficult indeed. He is The Philosopher and his analysis can be exhausting even when he leaves large questions open. The lectures on Aristotle have a very different character from those on Socrates and Plato; we see less of the man with his blood and sinews and more of the unfolding of ideas and categories. This is fitting: these ideas are now woven deep in the fabric of Western culture and moral thinking. But it makes Aristotle a harder study in these lectures. On the whole this is a very good course. But getting something out of it may depend on being able to connect the issues examined with your own life, and with the way the issues are treated in the world around us and in the past. If you can't pick the issues out of the grand tapestry of society and history, it will be hard to appreciate the importance of these three dead white males. Dead though they may be, their lives touch everybody blessed by the Western tradition, and are part of the blessing. With that caveat: recommended.
Date published: 2009-12-24
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Profound and enjoyable reflections We surely must be grateful to Professor Bartlett's incisive reflections on the nature of socratic political philosophy as representing a modern viable alternative to our political and philosophical self-understanding. This alternative takes its path upon a close determination of what the "Socratic revolution" -------which moved Socrates towards a perspective closer to the self-understanding of the citizens themselves------- might mean. And it is surely extremely helpful to have a more public on-line presentation of the ideas developed by Professor Strauss and his students for those of us interested in their interpretation of Aristophanes, Xenophon (virtually forgotten in academia for very specific reasons), Socrates, Plato and Aristotle. As an insider's comment/joke, one could definitively say that this course ---and going back to my mother tongue----- can be easily regarded as "el número uno"! The presentation is clear, concise, humorous and generally thought-provoking (particularly if one considers the accompanying guide as well). Professor Bartlett takes great pains to reconsider in each of his lectures the previous arguments and paths developed; and he usually ends his timely lectures with certain puzzles for the listener to continue exploring the problems revealed in the text themselves, rather than by providing a set doctrines (e.g., the "platonic doctrine of the ideas") that could be just repeated endlessly. In this respect, the recovery of Plato's work as a consisting of DIALOGUES with a specific audience in mind, with specific characters in play and under specific situations aids us IMMENSELY in trying to understand what at the start might be tedious, bad and irrelevant lines of argument. Something similar must be said for Bartlett's interpretation of Aristotle's "manner of writing". Besides, he constantly provides examples taken from everyday life which may allow the listener to move from their simplicity to the depths of the questions addressed to us by the Classical Political Philosophy tradition. As a matter of fact and to go back to one of his favorite examples, I actually found a wallet on the street during the time I spent going through this course. I must confess the course immediately made me want to give the wallet back wholeheartedly as I had become more just, just by listening! Of course, questions remain, and given the breadth of the course, important gaps also remain which just could not be filled (a serious one being the "jumping over" the virtue of moderation in the Nicomachean Ethics) . But perhaps the fundamental question for the course remains the Straussian interpretation which might be seen to try to "square the circle". If -------as we are pointed to again and again------- the Socratic revolution stems from a reconsideration of the political nature of our praxis and our reflections (particularly as regards the question of the divine and the search for a "scientific" explanation of the order of the universe as in the pre-Socratics), then this means that the political sphere is once again given its due dignity. That is to say, one cannot philosophize without encountering in dialogue the Ischomachus of our lives as Xenophon recounts arguing that it is in this very precise conversation that Socrates SAW the philosophical need for such a revolution. But this impulse to bring forth back the dignity of the political is not always easily set along the more fundamental axis of the arguments presented by the Straussians, namely, that even though the political has the aforementioned dignity, it truly remains FAR below the possibilities which the life of reflection, the life of philosophy, opens up to the citizen who starts to move towards a self-critical stance of such dignity-ridden (but perhaps self-enclosing) elements. In other words, one could ask whether to say that there is much dignity in 'x', but that really the dignity of 'x' is only visible once it sees beyond its confines, ends up throwing a massive question as to the real dignity of 'x' itself. Of course, this is much more evident in Plato's Republic than in his LAWS given the metaphor of the cave and its constant allusion to the SHADOWS which make up our political reality. But this could also be seen to be true in Aristotle in the following way: though Aristotle indeed leaves behind such complex equations as the third wave of the Republic which identifies philosopher and ruler (see for example Book II of the Politics), still in Book X of the Nicomachean ethics he apparently seems to run into the same difficulties of trying to "square the circle" by showing that the life dedicated to the moral virtues, life which has a certain dignity of its own, is truly only worthy of a very secondary notion of happiness. I believe this places a massive question as regards the fundamental argument of the course, namely, that it is the Socratic revolution ---his "Second sailing"----- which makes possible the very work of Xenophon, Plato and Aristotle. And also in a similar respect, the course fails to place its interpretation among other competing interpretations which seem to fundamentally disagree with the political nature of Socratic thought. Straussian interpretations are many a time "outside the academic norm" and perhaps this course does not do enough to emphasize this crucial differentiation. In this respect, one seems not to see much of Aristophanes' humor amongst academics nowadays. In a similar light, one need ask why it is that so few "philosophical dialogues" are actually written to day by those who are considered the "philosophers" of our time. In other words, shouldn't reading Plato move US to write dialogues as he did? A final massive difficulty that is pointed to, worked upon and reworked endlessly by the always helpful and rhetorically talented professor Bartlett is the choice made by Socrates to actually drink the hemlock. Although Bartlett considerations of the Crito, the Phaedo and the Apology are absolutely enlightening and profound, one has the feeling that this foundational act which determines the very memory of Socrates has to be further developed by all readers on their own. Finally as regards what one can only wish for; THE TEACHING COMPANY would do very well in asking Professor Barlett (or Professor Pangle) to provide us with a course which FOCUSES solely on THE LAWS of Plato and the NICOMACHEAN ETHICS of Aristotle. It is my belief that we are in much need of a more public defense of the arguments presented in THE LAWS as the basis for a critical questioning and defense of our liberal democracies. In terms of the NICOMACHEAN ETHICS (from the Straussian perspective) the public could have a better understanding of the diverse moral virtues and the inherent dilemmas they present, as well as a consideration of why Aristotle was moved to write 2 ETHICS rather than only one, if one includes the Eudemian Ethics as one should. All in all, an absolutely impressive course for which we ought to be very grateful indeed.
Date published: 2009-10-21
Rated 1 out of 5 by from Too wordy and meandering It pains me to write this negative review, because Prof. Bartlett seems like such a nice guy. But his endless wordiness and meandering made this course almost unlistenable. I did force myself to finish it, but just barely. It's a great topic. And he chooses the right course materials to discuss. But he just keeps wandering and restating and qualifying everything he says. Really, it was a painful experience, and it got worse as the course went along.
Date published: 2009-10-02
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Excellent but Slightly Limited It may not seem like a 36-lecture course on only 3 people (one of whom wrote nothing) could possibly be too short, but this was. Professor Bartlett does a great job with the material he covers, but he could have easily used 12 more lectures to further study Aristotle. The treatment of Moral Philosophy was fantastic, and I appreciated the study of the "real Socrates" as seen through three authors (Plato, Xenophon, and Aristophenes). Professor Bartlett does a great job exploring various Platonic texts, but again he could have covered more. Overall this is a great course, but cannot be considered a complete treatise on Aristotle, or even Plato. I look forward to yet another course on Ancient Greek Philosophers.
Date published: 2009-07-07
Rated 4 out of 5 by from And Where Is The Rest? A more honest title for this course would be "The Political Thought of Socrates, Plato, and Aristotle." This course disappointed because of what was left out: that is anything on Aristotles thoughts on logic, epistemology, and method in science. Whitehead said that all of philosophy is a footnote to Plato. It is probably equally fair to say that all of the philosophy of science is a footnote to Aristotle.
Date published: 2009-06-20
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Looking for the meanings... While I thoroughly enjoyed Professor Barlett's lectures he only provides the perspective of a previous Sophist (Socrates), a devoted Plato and a rational and reasonable Aristole. He provides the commonality throughout the lecturea, but defining the true meaning is lacking. Virtue, Justice, Honor are terms that become less defined as the Greek Philosphers mature in their understanding of the essence. Great course for the interested philosopher, a stepping stone to more indepth analysis, and certainly a contribution to the Teaching Company!
Date published: 2009-04-05
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Great Material, Great Teacher This course uses the greatest works of ancient Greek moral and political philosophy to reflect on questions of perennial interest: how we ought to live, what happiness is, what it means to be a good citizen, what friendship is and why it is so important to us. Professor Bartlett explains how these questions were addressed by the greatest Greek thinkers, and does it in such a way that he shows that their insights are relevant even for us in the 21st Century. The course is structured as a series of lectures on texts by Plato, Aristotle, Xenophon, and Aristophanes. Bartlett gives helpful summaries and ably situates each in its historical context. But the real meat of the course consists in his thoughtful insights into each work, and in the fascinating, provocative, and still-relevant ideas he’s able to find in them. Bartlett’s expositions are simply masterful. If you haven’t read the books, you’ll find you want to. If you have, this class will make you see things you’ve never seen before, and it will probably make you want to go back and read them again. Bartlett’s presentation is clear, accessible, and engaging. He has a light touch, too; there were times when I laughed out loud. (OK, it didn’t happen that often, but it happened.) This is my first Teaching Company course, but if other offerings are as strong as this, I will become a regular customer. Highly recommended.
Date published: 2009-02-20
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Congratulations to Prof. Bartlett and to the Teaching Company: this is a remarkable course! Bartlett offers an utterly original reading of key texts by Plato, Aristotle, and Xenophon, and he does so with the utmost clarity and eloquence. This is not a course for those who just want to know a few general ideas about the Greeks; but for students and teachers eager to read these three great authors for themselves and take the trouble to try to interpret them, Bartlett is an invaluable guide. I’ve taught several of the texts on which Bartlett lectures, and I’m humbled by depth of his interpretations and impressed that he can remain lucid even while digging very deep. Indeed, he even manages to keep his eyes twinkling through some dark passages, and he is witty as well as profound. I’m very pleased that I purchased the transcripts as well as the DVD’s, for much that he has to say bears rereading.
Date published: 2009-02-18
Rated 5 out of 5 by from An Inspiring Teacher of an Important Subject I had heard about Prof. Bartlett's many teaching awards, so I was very pleased to learn that the Teaching Company made these lectures available to the public. It is a rare opportunity to have access to a scholar who is so genuinely accomplished. This series of lectures is simply excellent. It offers in-depth learning about a topic of seminal importance: the ancient Greeks' introduction of moral and political philosophy to the world. Each lecture is clear, well-organized and full of indispensible general information about the beginnings and early development of moral philosophy, as well as offering many thought-provoking and original insights into individual texts. There is nothing dry or remote here. Prof. Bartlett brings these thinkers alive for a modern, intellectually curious audience. I learned a great deal and would recommend this set even to teachers who would like to improve their skills, as well as to anyone who would like to understand better why the ancient Greeks remain so relevant to our lives.
Date published: 2009-02-18
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Fascinating One of the earlier reviewers was disappointed because the course was not about Greek Thought generally. That's true. On the other hand, the name of the course does indicate that this professor sees Socrates, Plato, and Aristotle as the peaks of Greek reflection, and the course also discusses one play by Aristophanes and a couple of works of Xenophon in depth. If you are looking for an introduction to Greek political philosophy, look no further--you won't be disappointed. The lectures are clear and accessible. My wife had very little familiarity with this material, and she loved the course. I had previously read most of the books Bartlett discusses, and some of them more than once, and I loved it too. I've listened to the whole course twice already.
Date published: 2009-02-07
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