Practical Philosophy: The Greco-Roman Moralists

Course No. 4473
Professor Luke Timothy Johnson, Ph.D.
Emory University
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Course No. 4473
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Course Overview

Imagine a course that teaches you not only how to think like the great philsophers, but how to live. Greeks and Romans of the early imperial period are often overlooked in the annals of philosophical study, but provided down-to-earth advice on how to live a solid, happy life. Professor Luke Timothy Johnson returns to The Teaching Company to study these geat thinkers with you.
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24 lectures
 |  Average 30 minutes each
  • 1
    The World of the Greco-Roman Moralists
    This opening presentation introduces the Greco-Roman moralists through a comparison between the ancient Roman Empire and the new American Empire. The moral philosophers look less like academic philosophers of today than they do the talk-show therapists who haunt contemporary media. x
  • 2
    How Empire Changed Philosophy
    Greek philosophy found its distinctive voice in the context of the city-state, but the late Roman republic and early empire were different worlds. The rich sense of local culture and of citizen participation that had marked Athens was now subordinated to the structures of empire. For those in the middle of society, the result was sometimes alienation and anomie. x
  • 3
    The Great Schools and Their Battles
    The sages of the early empire agreed that a virtuous life was the best life, but disagreed on the best way of accomplishing virtue. To some extent, their differences were based in the various schools of philosophy that grew up in Greece. Each had distinctive opinions concerning reality, truth, and virtue. The most influential traditions for the Greco-Roman moralists were Stoicism and Cynicism. x
  • 4
    Dominant Themes and Metaphors
    Greco-Roman philosophers teach in many literary modes, including letters, discourses, biographies, and collections of maxims. Certain themes and metaphors constantly recur. The first is athletic: The quest for virtue is perceived as an Olympic contest. The second is medical: Virtue is health and vice is illness. The philosopher, not incidentally, is the physician of the soul. x
  • 5
    The Ideal Philosopher—A Composite Portrait
    What should the philosopher be like? Those committed to the pursuit of wisdom emphasized inner qualities of character. Proteptic discourses by Dio Chrysostom, Epictetus, Lucian of Samosata, and the emperor Julian provide a composite portrait of the ideal philosopher. x
  • 6
    The Charlatan—Philosophy Betrayed
    The polemical attacks of philosophers were directed not only at members of rival schools or at sophists who spoke publicly for pay. Their greatest scorn and contempt were reserved for charlatans (goetai), those who claimed the name of philosopher, but whose behavior did not match their professed ideals. A particularly sustained and effective dismantling of a charlatan is Lucian of Samosata's Proteus Peregrinus. x
  • 7
    Philosophy Satirized—The Comic Lucian
    Lucian of Samosata (120–200 C.E.) is one of history's great humorists, the ancient world's equivalent of Jonathan Swift or Mark Twain. In his savage attacks on the pomposities of pretend philosophers, Lucian most resembles the American journalist, H. L. Mencken. As his tractates Nigrinus and Demonax demonstrate, he also had a great respect for what he considered to be an authentic philosophical spirit. x
  • 8
    Cicero—The Philosopher as Politician
    Marcus Tullius Cicero (106–43 B.C.E.) is one of the best-known figures of Roman antiquity, because of his public career as a politician, and his extensive private correspondence. While not entirely admirable in his own character, he shows us the real-life struggle between high ideals and human frailty. x
  • 9
    Seneca—Philosopher as Court Advisor
    Lucius Annaeus Seneca (4 B.C.E.–65 C.E.), like Cicero, was fundamentally a scholar, and attained the consulship (57 C.E.). His greatest role was as tutor to the young man who would become the emperor Nero, to whom Seneca directed his best thoughts on the virtuous government and kingship (for example, On Clemency). Seneca composed many letters and essays approached from the perspective of Roman Stoicism. x
  • 10
    Good Roman Advice—Cicero and Seneca
    No aspect of life was so highly valued in Greco-Roman culture as friendship. The first part of this presentation investigates Cicero's great treatise, On Friendship. The second part draws lessons from a comparison of Cicero's and Seneca's treatment of old age. x
  • 11
    Musonius Rufus—The Roman Socrates
    Cicero's contemporary Musonius Rufus is virtually unknown to us, even though he enjoyed a huge reputation among his fellow philosophers. His fame had something to do with his impressive virtue. From the fragments of his discourses that remain, we see that he was at once rigorous and humane, remarkably open to the capacity of women to learn, yet traditional in his perception of their social roles. x
  • 12
    Dio Chrysostom—The Wandering Rhetorician
    Dio of Prusa (45–115 C.E.) is unusual among the Greco-Roman moralists, because he spent part of his life as one of their rivals. His great eloquence earned him the name Chrysostom ("golden-tongue"). In mid-life, he experienced a dramatic conversion to the philosophical life. His orations provide a lively portrait of the many public speakers competing for attention in Hellenistic cities, as well as the qualities distinguishing the real philosopher from the charlatan. x
  • 13
    Dio Chrysostom—Preaching Peace and Piety
    As a public speaker who traveled from city to city, Dio had the opportunity to address issues of civic and not simply individual virtue and vice. His pleas for concord between cities evoke some of the other major themes of ancient philosophy. Dio is an example of a philosophical monotheism that developed independently within Greco-Roman culture. x
  • 14
    Epictetus—Philosopher as School Teacher
    Epictetus (c. 50-120 C.E.) is recognized as one of the great moral teachers of any age. Born a slave and suffering from lameness, he was freed sometime after the death of Nero (c. 68), but was banished from Rome by the emperor Domitian in 89 or 93. He founded a school for young, would-be philosophers in Epirus. This first presentation on Epictetus focuses on his life and his manner of teaching through the lively discourses known as diatribes. x
  • 15
    Epictetus—The Stotic Path to Virtue
    Epictetus's discourses show how Stoic philosophy was constantly put in service of moral transformation. In this presentation, we learn the basics of Stoic doctrine as communicated to his students by Epictetus, and especially the personal twist he puts on logic, physics, and ethics. x
  • 16
    Epictetus—The Messenger of Zeus
    The Greco-Roman philosophers remind us that high moral standards and religious convictions do not necessarily go hand-in-hand. Epictetus stands out for his personal religious fervor. His understanding of the true Cynic is as a messenger of God to humans, to turn them from vice and toward virtue. x
  • 17
    Marcus Aurelius—Meditations of the King
    Among the most attractive representatives of ancient moral philosophy is the emperor, Marcus Aurelius (121-180 C.E.). His sole literary work, the Meditations, was composed while he was engaged in his military campaigns. It shows how democratic the ideals of philosophy were within the empire, embracing both the slave Epictetus and the emperor Marcus, whose personal circle also included philosophers of various schools, all dedicated to the life of virtue. x
  • 18
    Jews Thinking Like Greeks
    The power and persuasiveness of Hellenistic moral philosophy is nowhere more evident than in its impact on Jewish thinkers of the imperial period. Greek-speaking Jews in Palestine and the Diaspora, although regarding their ancestral traditions as older and better, nevertheless adopted the perspectives of Greek philosophy. In his Jewish War and Antiquities of the Jews, Josephus describes Jewish sects in terms of philosophical schools. x
  • 19
    Philo—Judaism as Greek Philosophy
    The synthesis of Judaism and Greek philosophy found its most prolific expression in the writings of Philo Judaeus of Alexandria (15 B.C.E.-50 C.E.). A member of a wealthy and influential Jewish family, Philo was also thoroughly steeped in Hellenistic culture. He unhesitatingly interpreted Jewish traditions from the perspective of Greco-Roman philosophy. x
  • 20
    Plutarch—Biography as Moral Instruction
    Plutarch of Chaeronea (46-146 C.E.) lived under the emperors Nerva, Trajan, and Hadrian, a time when the Roman Empire enjoyed some of its best and most stable government. His life was correspondingly placid and productive. We review his major ethical writings, The Moralia and The Lives of the Noble Grecians and Romans. x
  • 21
    Plutarch and Philosophical Religion
    As an official functionary in a cult, and a man generally dedicated to traditional practices, Plutarch provides insight into the way a sympathetic philosopher viewed religion during the empire's most stable period. This presentation considers some of his general views before considering some of his treatises dealing specifically with religious issues. x
  • 22
    Plutarch on Virtue and Educating Children
    The ancient moralists disputed how virtue was acquired, but most agreed that it involved some form of prokope, or progress, that resulted from the cultivation of habits. No one had a better grasp of the difficulties of this process than Plutarch. We consider his tractate "On Progress in Virtue" and his treatise "On the Education of Children." x
  • 23
    Plutarch—Envy, Anger, and Talking Too Much
    If the Greco-Roman moralists were adept at describing virtues, they excelled in their depictions of vice. Plutarch's Moralia is filled with precise and subtle examinations of human failing. We gain some acquaintance with his opinions of three vices discussed broadly by ancient philosophers: anger, envy, and garrulousness. x
  • 24
    The Missing Page in Philosophy’s Story
    The Greco-Roman moralists remind us of the deeper issue that has traditionally been at the heart of philosophy: how to live well as a human being. The Greco-Roman moralists tend to be neglected by scholars in spite of their importance. The story of philosophy might look different if the page dealing with them were read more carefully. x

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Your professor

Luke Timothy Johnson

About Your Professor

Luke Timothy Johnson, Ph.D.
Emory University
Dr. Luke Timothy Johnson is the Robert W. Woodruff Professor of New Testament and Christian Origins at Emory University's Candler School of Theology in Atlanta, Georgia. Professor Johnson earned a Ph.D. in New Testament Studies from Yale University, as well as an M.A. in Religious Studies from Indiana University, an M.Div. in Theology from Saint Meinrad School of Theology, and a B.A. in Philosophy from Notre Dame Seminary in...
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Practical Philosophy: The Greco-Roman Moralists is rated 4.5 out of 5 by 52.
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Excellent in Every Respect I initially bought this course as part of my own late-life review of the Greco-Roman philosophers I first encountered as a graduate student, over 40 years ago. However, Professor Johnson's command of the materials, obvious enthusiasm, and profound learning have made this course one of my favorites from The Great Courses. In fact, I plan to start over again, not only because Professor Johnson covers so much territory so well but, more important, he's such a companionable guide. I like having him look over my shoulder as I read Lucian, Plutarch, Marcus Aurelius, Cicero and the other figures he covers in the course. I think he is spot-on with his conclusion that the Greco-Roman moralists represent a large and important missing part of philosophy. And, perhaps more important, they have a lot to say to us about what it is to lead a good life. Thank you Professor Johnson.
Date published: 2013-10-29
Rated 4 out of 5 by from A Gem (in most respects)! This is an extremely interesting and informative course on philosophers or moralists of the Roman Empire that is well-grounded and accessible to all. No previous background is needed, as Professor Johnson supplies all that you would need. I was more than a bit irritated, however, by his use of the politically correct BCE (Before the Common Era)/CE (Common Era) dating in the lectures. Other reviewers complain about Professor Johnson’s delivery, and I have to admit his voice is sometimes grating and he often seems pompous (hence my rating, which I would place at 4.5). But stick with him. I did, and I am glad for it. As I got engrossed in his lectures, I put my irritation to one side and eventually let it go. This is a philosophy course like no other, as it does not deal with theories and ideas, but rather with how to live well as a human being: wisdom and the “ethics of character” rather than knowledge. Professor Johnson maintains that the moralists of the Roman Empire constitute a missing page in Philosophy’s story, and that their work is at the heart of the philosophical “enterprise”. This focus, however, led to the Greco-Roman Moralists being later underappreciated, according to Professor Johnson, by other philosophers (focused on such issues as being and knowing, rather than exhortation), classicists (put off by the common and unimaginative language employed), and scholars of religion (who missed the diverse responses to religion in the moralists, though students of the New Testament are now paying closer attention). The moralists, nevertheless, got the attention of the wider culture of the time, as these nine and others like them were highly valued as “doctors of the soul”. In this regard, Professor Johnson does a great job in explaining the relevance of nine moralists from the Roman Empire to life today. While they have different backgrounds and approaches, the nine figures have much in common (from the course Guidebook, Part 2, Page 24-25): “…united in an anti-Epicurean stance that is at once optimistic and public minded: 1. Religious devotion to the gods is good when it is reasonable and supports moral behavior. 2. Pleasure is a completely inadequate basis for the good life 3. Humans are essentially social and owe their best efforts to the common good rather than their private peace. 4. Human impulses (both positive and negative) are capable of being controlled and being made more productive through reason, and reason is capable of being educated. “ I had been familiar with the works of several of the nine before I took this course, having found them helpful when I needed to regain perspective in challenging situations: Epictetus (Professor Johnson’s favorite, to whom he devotes three lectures), Seneca, Cicero, and Plutarch (my favorite, on whom four lectures are devoted), and Marcus Aurelius. This course helped to widen and deepen my appreciation of these moralists and their times. The course also introduced to me others I either had not heard of or only knew of by name. For me, the real finds among these five are Musonius Rufus, known as the Roman Socrates, and Philo, who synthesized Judaism and Greek philosophy. I especially appreciated Professor Johnson’s quoting liberally from the writings of the nine moralists, explaining some of the obscure passages, and providing interesting details about influences and impacts on and by them. I was so impressed with Professor Johnson in this course that I not only replaced my original 2004 audio tapes with an audio download, but also purchased several other courses by him.
Date published: 2013-09-20
Rated 2 out of 5 by from Information Good, Delivery Poor Professor Johnson delivers a dry lecture on a very interesting topic. I was skeptical about listening to lectures on disc and this has made me even more so. There is no enthusiasm and it makes for boring listening. His continued use of BCE and CE instead of B.C and A.D is, I am guessing, a product of his Yale education and takes away from the lecture. Enough already of trying to be Politically correct. I am very disappointed.
Date published: 2013-07-03
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Invaluable, Insightful and Inspiring This is the 4th course I have taken with Professor Luke Timothy Johnson and it is the best from amongst a group of superb courses. I have developed an interest in philosophy and would regard myself pretty knowledgeable about the philosophical tradition in the West. I came across the course and realised that whilst I had heard of some of the philosophers in this course I did not really know much of their teaching. In addition I simply had not heard of some of the others such as Dio Chrysostom and Musunios Rufus. I am delighted that I decided to listen to the course. It is an absolute gem covering a group of philosophers which,as the Professor rightly states, have virtually been looked over in standard history of philosophy courses. This is a 5 star course and I recommend it to anyone with an interest in intellectual history and in particular anyone seeking inspiring life stories and ideas that offer PRACTICAL advice on how to improve your life. I am also inspired to read more direct from Epectitus and Plutarch and also learn more about the lives and thoughts of Musunious Rufus and Dio Chrysostom. If there is a central message for their thoughts it is that character is destiny and that we can develop our virtues and enjoy deeper self worth and inner happiness. Lecture 24 from the Professor is both moving and absolutely worth listening to in its own right. Magnificent job!
Date published: 2013-03-24
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Completely Inspiring This is absolutely my favorite Teaching Company course. I have listen to these lectures multiple times. This course inspired me to dig deeper into the Greco-Roman world of philosophy. As direct consequence of my learning from Prof. Johnson is my creating a website using the name of Nikos where I wrote commentary on the 40 Principal Doctrines of Epicurus at ---- Also, I have studied and posted reviews of books on Cicero and others on Thank you so much, Prof. Johnson!
Date published: 2013-03-20
Rated 4 out of 5 by from From habit to morality, a Roman map DVD review. At present, however, only audio downloads are available. Dr. Johnson's PRACTICAL PHILOSOPHY will fascinate anyone interested in pre-Christian ethical thought. But it is also well-worth studying for TTC clients concerned with modern education, especially as it relates to moral development. Ancient Greek ethics was closely bound up with civic participation in the political and military life of tiny city states. Some were democracies. Some were not. But control was local, face-to-face and understandable. But later on, these cities were gobbled up by Alexander's Macedonian empire and then by Rome. The result was a collective feeling of loss and powerlessness. Was morality still possible amid a flood of foreign peoples and beliefs? And if so, what kind? Dr. Johnson explores 9 thinkers who took Plato or Aristotle (depending on taste) for granted, and focuses instead on their practical beliefs. Three schools predominate. 1. STOICISM emphasized emotional self-control. True freedom came from a life pursued in accord with nature. Indeed, later stoics such as Seneca and Epictetus stated that true virtue was such a fount of happiness that sages were immune to misfortune. 2. CYNICISM too preached a life in accord with nature. It did so, however, with a hippy-like disregard for social conventions. Since it associated nature with freedom and society with constraints, its followers made their point with in-your-face antics that bordered on entertainment for its own sake. 3. EPICURIANISM taught that pleasure is the greatest good. But the way to attain pleasure was to live modestly and to gain knowledge of nature and the limits of one's desires. Although Epicureanism sounds like modern-day hedonism insofar as it declares pleasure as the sole intrinsic good, its conception of pleasure as the absence of pain and its advocacy of simplicity make it a close cousin of the other two schools. Perhaps for that reason, they exploited its association with immorality. It was their favorite whipping boy. If practical action was their focus, not theories of nature for their own sake, these three schools sound like peas in a pod. • They all modeled the ideal sage on Socrates; not the truth-seeking-pain-in-the-butt Socrates, but the serene-wise-man-who-calmly-accepted-death version presented in Plato's "Crito" and "Phaedo". • They all believed that MORALITY was based on character. That CHARACTER was forged by life changes. And that life changes were navigable because of deeply-instilled HABITS. The focus of education and of life-long self-improvement therefore must lie on the analysis of and careful nurturing of good repetitive behavior. The opposite is true of vices; all repetitive patterns as well. • A key point to understand when facing adversity is the difference between what is within our power to change and what is not. Epictetus is particularly clear on that point. We control very little in life. But our perceptions and attitudes towards these ungovernable realities are much more clearly in our grasp. Mold them, and the bite of fate is that much reduced. (Is this not very reminiscent of Frankl's "Man's Search for Meaning"? Or even Tony Robbins?) • Finally, they encouraged individual cultivation, but took their societies for granted. Epictetus was a freed slave, but he would not have understood challenging slavery as an institution. Similarly, none of the 9 thinkers spent money to found hospitals or safe houses for the poor. Society was part of "nature"; something eternal you adapted to. All very interesting. Unfortunately Johnson muddies the presentation by first describing the general social context (a wise choice), and then devoting lessons 4-7 on themes such as the ideal philosopher vs. the charlatans at that time. It is correct that "the philosopher" had become a stock entertainment figure in Roman society by 100 B.C.E., complete with beard, staff and hemp toga as if he lived off berries and spring water. These public speakers travelled around to orate on any subject for the wealthy after meals. Some spiced up their act with outrageous opinions and actions. The entertainment-starved gentry loved it! Philosophers, poets, wild religious preachers; they all looked like gigs after a while! True enough. But to focus on that for 7 lessons before the first solid thinker (Cicero) shows up requires a lot of patience from listeners. My own favorites by far were Plutarch and Epictetus, lessons 20-23 and 14-16 respectively. So my main recommendation for those of you interested by this subject is to JUMP AHEAD TO LESSON 24 AND LISTEN TO THAT FIRST. It summarizes the whole course very well. Then and only then, go to Lesson One. Dr. Johnson's delivery was excellent. He is a very learned yet accessible public speaker; someone I would gladly have a beer with. I will surely check up his other TTC lessons.
Date published: 2012-03-28
Rated 4 out of 5 by from I enjoyed listening to Professor Johnson describe the thought of several philosophers in this series of lectures. Although I studied some philosophy in college, this course introduced to me several philosophers that I was not acquainted with and I am thankful for that. I am particularly thankful for an introduction to Lucian of Samosata. As professor Johnson says Lucian seems to be an ancient greek version of Mark Twain.
Date published: 2012-02-10
Rated 1 out of 5 by from A Great Disappointment After a brief introduction to Epictetus and Marcus Aurelius in Jay Garfield's Meaning of Life course, I purchased this course hoping for deeper exposure to these and other figures. I am very disappointed in this course on several levels. Firstly, the presenter, Professor Johnson, is almost unbearable. He speaks in a treacly drone in the manner of Floyd the Barber from the old Andy Griffith Show. This style renders even the best of his material difficult to absorb. Secondly, the lectures are not well organized. They tend to ramble rhapsodically. Along with his speaking style, this meandering also distracts from the material. Finally, it is the material that is lacking most of all. The professor, a former Benedictine monk, can't help cherry picking the most religious aspects of the philosophers he chooses to highlight. Indeed, the course title should be changed to "How to Lead People to Christianity through Stoic Philosophy." God was present so often that the lectures sometimes felt more like sermons. Professor Johnson saves his harshest vitriol for the Epicurean school, never missing a chance to distort its views, reinforce stereotypes about it and ridicule anyone who would consider it a serious alternative to the comfortably Theist Stoics or their Platonist ancestors. If you like your philosophy mixed with a heavy dollop of deity, perhaps this course may appeal to you. Otherwise, you're far better off with Jay Garfield's Meaning of Life course supplemented by your own reading.
Date published: 2012-02-04
Rated 4 out of 5 by from a useful corrective i’m of two minds about this course. on the one hand i think it has a unique and compelling message which deserves to be widely heard. on the other hand i had trouble getting into it, and i’m not entirely sure why. it wasn’t because of any failure on the part of the professor: he delivers exactly what he says he’s going to, and he does a thoroughly competent job of it. he knows his ancient literature extremely well, and this course would serve as an excellent reading guide to the greco-roman moralists. i also found the two lectures on the jewish use of greek philosophy to be particularly intriguing as an example of how a people might preserve their own culture while making use of the best their neighbours had to offer. i think rather that my difficulty had to do with the fact that in this course moral philosophy essentially means moral exhortation, rather than the effort to define what is moral, or the struggle over moral ambiguities. again and again our subjects are, “be good! control yourself! don’t be a hypocrite!” and this is all good, but if you have any kind of moral compass it’s not particularly challenging. in other words, the line between lecture and sermon is very thin. of course this is not necessarily a shortcoming: if you’re looking for moral uplift you’ll find this course to be quite edifying. taking it is almost like being in one of those ancient classrooms yourself. furthermore i do find the course’s essential message to be an important and valuable one. the final lecture in particular deserves to be heard by far more than just those who purchase this course. we have here a valuable corrective to the stereotype of lascivious ancient greeks & romans mindlessly engaged in endless drunken debaucheries. this course makes it very clear that not only did greco-roman civilization have a highly developed sense of morality, complete with a whole class of moral teachers who made it their business to pass it on, but this moral philosophy was so compelling that even jews & christians brought much of it on board. this message is worth the price of admission, and i rather wish courses like this were taught more widely today.
Date published: 2012-01-06
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Informative and Inspiring Course I became interested in Stoic philosophy especially when I read Marcus Aurelius' Meditations while flying to New England for a scientific meeting. It was a difficult period in my life and Marcus' thoughts helped. I have since read a book on the subject and also bought this course. As one reviewer put it, this course is a gem. I much appreciated the broader picture the professor presented as it gave me a solid background in the relationship of Stoicism and the various other philosophical schools. Despite its reputation as a dry as dust subject, philosophy is actually quite fascinating, especially if presented by a knowledgeable teacher. This course increased my respect for The Great Courses and I recommend it to everybody who has a stake in living a full life.
Date published: 2011-12-30
Rated 5 out of 5 by from A Gem of a Course I am with the reviewers who, it seems, gave the course a 5 star rating only because they couldn't rate it higher. At least one reviewer noted that the course started slow. That's true, but the professor soon hits his stride and delivers on all counts in this little gem. Of the many "great courses" I've experienced, this rates with the few that were best. Content is outstanding and the presentation is even better. It was a pleasure to sit through these 24 lectures. I rate it as one of the "great courses" not to be missed by anyone interested in philosophy. The professor seems to have a number of other courses that focus on religion. I haven't seen them, and don't have a lot of interest in those topics. In any case, this course does not show a religious agenda, which would have seriously detracted from it's value to me.
Date published: 2011-11-10
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Drowning in information? Here's a lifeline! I was so enthralled with this course that I sent a link to it to some of my philosophical friends. I wrote them a brief note: 'What I find profound, moving, and especially interesting is that the Greco-Roman moralists kind of fell through the cracks of history and philosophy itself. Yet, these moralists were answering critically important questions, like "How Shall We Best Live?" and "Does Character Determine Destiny?" 'Perhaps the neglect of these thinkers over the years has caused us to lose our way as humans. They had solid answers and were popuar during their time. 'Today, we live in a sea of information and knowledge, but have no true wisdom.' The final lecture, on the 'The Missing Page in Philosophy's Story,' alone was worth the price of the entire course. Highest recommendation!
Date published: 2011-08-09
Rated 5 out of 5 by from One of the Best! This course is simply one of the best I have purchased. The lectures were lively and entertaining, they also introduced me to a host of philosophers and philosophies I had never studied prior to this. Midway through the course I even purchased the writings of Epictetus, who along with Plutarch seemed to me to be the stars of the course. I would highly recommend this course to anyone.
Date published: 2011-06-21
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Good course - unimportant subject. The Greco-Roman moralists get very scant coverage in most philosophy courses Professor Johnson goes into some detail as to why this is the case. He makes an impassioned attempt to convince the listener that we should study these guys more. I was almost convinced by him.
Date published: 2011-04-21
Rated 4 out of 5 by from A Fine, Near-5 Star Course This course starts slow, but, by the end, it offers great value. I especially appreciated the professor's lectures on Epictetus and Plutarch. I confess to having known too little about Epictetus before the course. Professor Johnson teaches him with tremendous knowledge and devotion. It's an exceptional run of lectures. I have read many of Plutarch's Lives, but, again, I have had limited exposure to Plutarch's own life and philosophy. These lectures on Plutarch alone are worth the price of admission. Yet, there are shortcomings in the course. The professor wishes he had more time to get into greater depth. I do, too. But had the professor shortened the introductory phase of the course, which actually lasted essentially through seven or eight lectures, he could have used the saved time to meet that objective. Further, the professor seemed to enjoy contrasting ancient times to modern times but is not really sharp in doing so. For example, comparing Epictetus to Dr. Phil and Seneca to Dr. Laura is cute, but it distracts and detracts. It is interesting to see the influence of the Greco-Roman moralists on Judaism, but the professor seems to forget that there was a focus in Judaism on wisdom (e.g., in Proverbs) at least as early, if not earlier, than the times of these philosophers. But, weaknesses notwithstanding, this course is excellent. It makes a strong, compelling, and important case for our attention to this invaluable but largely "missing page in philosophy's story."
Date published: 2010-10-31
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Absolutely Wonderful! I have been mostly satisfied with all of my Teaching Company courses, but this was by far the most enjoyable and enlightening. First, the professor is a passionate subject matter expert who is as charming as he is knowledgeable. He effectively combines an amazing vocabulary spanning English, Latin, and Greek with a great selection of examples and mixes his own wit with that of his subjects to deliver a compelling story. In addition, he uses both subtle and overt comparisons between the thinking and culture of antiquity with that of the present to ensure continuous relevance to any contemporary adult listener. There is so much information provided in such a pleasant and engaging manner that by the end of the second lecture, I knew not only that I would have to listen to the course several times, but that I couldn't wait to do so.
Date published: 2010-10-13
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Excellent ! I found this course extremely interesting and stimulating. Professor Luke Johnson is not only a complete master of his subject matter but lectures in a style that is lively, passionate and engaging. His ability to take quite complex matters and "unbundle" them clearly and simply for the student is particularly remarkable. I came away genuinely feeling that this course had assisted me in my own personal self-development. My highest compliment is that I found that the end of this 24 lecture course came all too soon. Well and easily recommended to those wishing to benefit from the wisdom of those "seekers after truth" who went before us in the early Roman Empire; a period of history that Prof. Johnson rightly suggests was unique in its richness and depth of philosohical engagement in the practical matter of "how best is a man (or woman) to live ?".
Date published: 2010-08-24
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Enlightening Well researched introduction on the subject. Interesting to see how the "pagan" philosophy influenced Christianity at least as much as the official gospels. Very inspiring. I'll definitely try to deepen my knowledge on the matter.
Date published: 2010-08-14
Rated 5 out of 5 by from excellent, inspired, solid, and important Luke Timothy Johnson admires strong personalities and, in fact, has one. This makes him uniquely qualified to consider these men on an age of strong personality, as Dr. Johnson put it in his course on the Apostle Paul. His passing references to his taste in, say, modern novels, might be distracting if not always insightful. I was inclined to this lecture because it has recently dawned on me that if Constantine had not become emperor or if he had become emperor without his vision of the cross at the Milvian bridge, Europe might have developed along the lines of India. Christianity would not have become the state religion in all of the territory of the Roman empire and Greco-Roman paganism would have survived along side Christianity and Judism in the west, the way Janism, Buddhism, Shikism and the infinite varieties of Hinduism share India and a common ethos.The figures Dr. Johnson discusses in this course would then sit along side Jesus and Paul as key figures in the religions of Europe. If not for a vision of a cross in 312, these relatively obscure figures would be on statues all over Europe and their names would roll off all of our tongues like Paul, Peter, and Jesus. Dr. Johnson's course on Early Christianity's Experience of the Divine is also an inspired piece of work. I thank him for being a careful but bold and creative presenter of information that is not of passing or casual interest to me as I look at the world and understand myself, including that part of myself with is from the collective despite my ego's effort's to disguise the origins of the prejudices that appear as truth and obstruct vision.
Date published: 2010-04-24
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Very Enjoyable I never would have thought that I would enjoy a subject such as this. I like lots of hard science and "hard" philosophy, but this course is a fascinating addition to my library. Pure entertainment from beginning to end.
Date published: 2009-08-19
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Wisdom of Life Professor Johnson’s course discusses nine philosophers who lived around the time of the early Roman Empire and the philosophy they practiced to improve their lives and the lives of those that came in contact with them. After discussing the various schools of philosophy Dr. Johnson explains why moralistic philosophers were needed in their day. Rome had been on a conquering spree and the middle class was experiencing culture shock with their new rulers--Roman military presence, new laws, etc. Philosophers filled the need by providing an understanding of how to direct one’s thoughts and actions to maximize happiness. The vices and virtues of life were thoroughly laid out along with practical ideas such as friendship and aging. Nine philosophers are discussed from all classes of society. At the very top of society Emperor Marcus Aurelius used philosophy to improve his governing skills; Cicero, a politician, and Seneco, a court advisor and playwright, came from the wealthy class and enjoyed writing to their friends and writing essays on philosophy. Plutarch, a priest of Apollo at the oracle of Delphi, spent time writing moral biographies about famous Romans and Greeks as well as researching everything. He also wrote essays about child rearing as well as the process of refining one’s talents to be more in tune with the forces of nature and God. Then there were the working philosopher including Epictetus, a freed slave, Lucian of Samosata, a satirist of philosophers and others, Musonius Fears, the Roman Socrates, Philo, a Jew thinking like a Greek, and Dio Chrysostum (translated as the golden tongued) was a consultant to emperors, rhetorician and had a dramatic conversion to philosophical life. The final philosopher I need to discuss is Professor Luke Johnson, a former Benedictine Monk, who has done his best to make this course meaningful to his listeners. The Greco-Roman Moralists were important to those who seek wisdom and Dr. Johnson has brought out their most important teachings.
Date published: 2009-07-19
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Good Solid review of the subject. A little dry at times, but still engaging. I would have liked to spend a little more time with Marcu Aurelius and perhaps less on Plutarch.
Date published: 2009-06-20
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Missing page? These lectures are well delivered, with a wry empathy and warm enthusiasm. Professor Johnson believes that the Hellenistic moralists correspond, in their time, to the popular lifestyle advisors of our own, and should provoke a similar—indeed, a greater—interest. He goes on to say that despite these classical moralists’ eminently practical wisdom, or perhaps because of it, they have not been given much attention in histories of philosophy, and thus constitute a “missing page.” Yet as he mentions (but could stress more forcefully) they are definitely not missing in Western culture, and are of huge importance for humanists of the European Renaissance. A possibly related minor flaw in this lecture series is, oddly enough, bibliographical. Almost as if unwittingly catering to his own thesis about the “missing page,” the instructor has no main textbook, but instead recommends (and reads long excerpts from) the Loeb Classical Library. This multi-volume set of bilingual editions is fine for those who wish to have the original Greek and Latin texts before them. But the instructor fails to point out or recommend, for those who would like to follow along or to read further, that for all these texts there also are inexpensive paperback Penguin and Oxford Classics translations with very up-to-date notes, bibliographies, and introductions. Perhaps the missing page, then, need not be missed quite so much?
Date published: 2009-06-10
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Best course period This is my favorite TTC course by far, and I have taken perhaps two dozen in the last decade or so, in history, philosophy and science. The material is fascinating, the lecturer is clear and easy to follow, and it does a nice balance between the history of the people and ideas involved, and the ideas themselves. Thank you, Professor Johnson! It took me a little while to get used to the professor's voice, which is easy to understand but has an unusual (at least to me) sound and accent. But in no time, he had delivered his material with such passion and clarity that he had completely won me over. My only complaint was that the course was way too short! Each lecture gave great detail on the philosopher being covered and their philosophy. One especially nice touch was that he covered not only the key ideas, but also the teaching methodology used by each to convey their message; an invaluable addition to understanding the whole. The only chapter I was not thrilled with was that on false philosophers, the "charlatans." I think a brief mention in a sentence or two would have been sufficient to cover them, and the negative attitudes of some towards philosophers; to me, it did not add anything to the course. On the other hand, what I would like to have more of would have been greater details on the virtues expounded by the philosophers, more illustrative examples - actually, more of everything. Each lecture left you wanting more, and at the end of the course itself you yearn for more. I would love to see Professor Johnson do in-depth courses on Epictetus (and his students such as Marcus Aurelius) and Plutarch. I would also love to see him do a course on developments in moral philosophy since ancient times, extending the course to Espinoza, Montaigne, et. al. Would he want to include Grotius? Hume? I would love to find out. I have listened to this course three or four times already in the couple of years I have had it, and will revisit it periodically no doubt. Each new hearing brings up details I missed before, as well as refreshing thoughts on old ideas. This course is the best bargain I have ever had!
Date published: 2009-06-04
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Philosophy's Missing Page My only complaint about this course is, as Dr. Johnson himself acknowledges, that it's evidently too short. I'd love to see him take this to a 36-lecture series. More than any other TTC course I've taken, the press and limitations of time are almost continually evident. Each lecture leaves you thirsty! Until taking this course, I considered myself somewhat versed on the topics, themes and contributions of ancient philosophy. Now I realize that I never challenged myself to explain the origin and development of the that part of thought development that deals with morals and ethics. Yes, it's true that the intellectual development of Christianity was significantly responsible for the modern conception of these disciplines, that wasn't the only source. Indeed, it's refreshing to realize that fundamental, enduring contributions to moral philosophy came from the so-called "pagan" philosophers. The last lecture, which summarizes the story of how, exactly, these ancient sages from all walks of life and in such diverse circumstances, got relegated to relative obscurity as a result of a seemingly harmless choice of how to define the scope of "philosophy" made by a forth century historian. Although interesting, the intellectual historical features of this course are not its most important contribution. Rather, what becomes clear is that our ancient friends had a very clear, specific conception of the moral virtues and the process of inculcating them in character development. And thus is the great pertinence -- and relevance -- to the lives of all of us living in a culture that seems to have lost its way when it comes to virtue, character and their essential role in maintaining a healthy society. And you'll learn why we need a Plutarch as Secretary of Education rather than someone who's focus is making our children feel good about themselves. I rate this as an "Essential Teaching Company Course!"
Date published: 2009-03-15
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Just the Sort of Wisdom One Needs Stoic, and other Hellenistic (Epicurean, Sceptic), Philosophy is as important a source of wisdom as any. There is a good case to be made that stoic Philosophy is much needed in our society today. There is also a good case that shows that Stoic Philosophy is more important than modern Metaphysics or Epistemology. Dr. Johnson's lecturing ability is amazing on, at least, several levels. His level of scholarship is truly incredible. His musical voice and fine diction make for great listening as well. These lectures are pleasing on several levels. If there is one form of Philosophy that one should live by it's obviously Stoic Philosophy. One needs to know that the virtuous life is the happy life and that accepting what Zeus gives one is the best way to reduce stress is necessary to get through the day. Listening to Dr. Johnson (I'm listening for the second time) puts me in a good mood. I was driving my Corolla to work while listening to Dr. Johnson's introduction last week. I was passed by a very sporty Mercedes. I was inclined to feel like no less of a proper snob than the Mercedes driver due to the fact that I was hearing Dr. Johnson say: "One would never think of turning to Epictetus or Plutarch for their metaphysics. One would not think of Musonius Rufus as 'cutting edge' in the field of epistemology"
Date published: 2009-02-23
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Not a dull subject at all! This was hardly a dull subject with Dr. Johnson presenting! The main point was how to live worthily as a human being. We gained some sense of how ancient Greeks and Romans thought and its importance in the fabric of that society. Dr. Johnson argues that the moralist perspective should be reflected in our current education system and we totally agree. Many times in my life I have seen the name Plutarch in books, articles, magazines, textbooks but never knew who that was. The four lectures on Plutarch were VERY informative and engaging. My husband and I have enjoyed every course by Dr. Johnson.
Date published: 2009-02-18
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Makes Me Want More AUDIO CD: Prof. Johnson's surprising course on a greatly overlooked area of Philosophy (overlooked only if you think western classical philosophy is all about Plato and Aristotle) makes me want to buy more of his courses. Scholarly and humane, Prof. Johnson brings some fascinating personalities to the philosophical table. Cicero, Epictetus, and Marcus Aurelius are among the names you'd expect to see here. But what about Musonius Rufus? And Dio Chrysostom? These are fascinating philosophers. Also, having thought of Plutarch more as a historian, I thought it great to see him more deeply as a philosopher. This course is wonderful for its surprises. And I will be buying more of Prof. Johnson's courses.
Date published: 2009-01-28
Rated 5 out of 5 by from As The Title Says: Practical! The lecturer, Luke Johnson, is quite correct in his assessment that this course covers a largely missing but very important page from the history of philosophy. As the subtitle indicates, the course deals with moral philosophers from the ancient Greco-Roman period, roughly around the time of the early Roman empire. These philosophers were practical in that they were concerned with how people could live worthwhile lives in the midst of a complex, and in some ways alienating, imperial world. As I understand it, their general solution was to pursue personal growth leading to development of deeply ingrained virtuous character and resulting habitually virtuous action (in a social context), with disciplined rationality and emulation of examplary role models as key resources to aid the personal development process. Johnson clearly knows the material backwards and forwards as a scholar, and I sense that he has a deep personal understanding of the implications of the material from having found it very meaningful in his own life. This shows in the excellent passion and clarity of his lectures. Needless to say, I highly recommend the course to pretty much everyone, especially those with interests in personal development, philosophy, and/or ancient Greco-Roman history. Some prior background in the latter two areas would be helpful, but I don't think it's absolutely mandatory. Finally, I think a strong case can be made that our best contemporary "self-help" thinkers convey the same general message as the Greco-Roman moralists Johnson covers, and I think many of them do it just as well. I recognize that self-help literature is generally regarded as low-brow, but I think the best of it is excellent. Moreover, contemporary self-help thinkers tend to be disregarded for many of the same reasons that the Greco-Roman moralists were, and of course Johnson has made a strong case such disregard is a mistake. As a gateway to the best of self-help literature, spanning from ancient to contemporary times, I recommend the "50 Classics" series of books by Tom Butler-Bowdon.
Date published: 2009-01-17
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Good Survey of Moral Philosophy Professor Johnson does an excellent job of acquainting us with ancient moral philosophy. Personally, I would be interested in a full-course exploration of any of this course's major figures- especially Marcus Aurelius and Epictetus.
Date published: 2009-01-04
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