PHH 3100 Honors Ancient Greek Philosophy, WAC

Daniel White

Harriet L. Wilkes Honors College

Office HC 146; phone x-8651; email:

Office Hours Fall 2010: T & R 11:30-12:30; 2:00-4:00
W 2:00-4:00; or by appointment


In this course we will cover the foundations of Western philosophy in ancient Greek thinking about nature and humanity, including the ideas of the pre-Socratics, Socrates, Plato and Aristotle. We will consider the basic philosophical issues raised by these thinkers, as well as the historical and cultural context in which their thought arises. We willl give special consideration to the different readings of Greek texts made possible by different interpretive frameworks. Therefore, we are going to raise the fundamental questions of philosophy as they have been handed down from the Greeks. What “exists”?  Is there a “soul”?  How is “nature” constituted? Does it have “laws”? If so, what are they? Are the laws of nature different from those of “society” or “culture”? Is there “life” after “death”? What is the “best” life? What constitutes the best “state”?  Should social and political roles in that state be determined by gender? Does the human soul have “faculties”? If so, what is the most important one? What is “reason”? What is “art”? What are the best methods by which nature, society, and the individual may be “known”? The emphasis of the class will be on the reading, discussion, and interpretation of texts in light of philosophical, interdisciplinary, and broad human interests.  Your daily participation is essential to our success.  This course fulfills the Wilkes Honors College Core requirement in Culture, Ideas, and Values (CIV), the WHC Philosophy Concentration requirement in History of Philosophy (H), and as part of the FAU requirement in Writing Across the Curriculum (WAC) and the Gordon Rule.


Course Objectives:

  1. to develop an historical and critical understanding of ancient Greek philosophers in their cultural context;
  2. to identify the key ideas and assumptions of early Greek thinking;
  3. to understand the ways in which Greek philosophical thought has contributed to the origins of the European tradition in the liberal arts and sciences;
  4. to improve skills in critical reading, thinking and analytical writing;
  5. to address key philosophical concepts in terms of interdisciplinary perspectives across the curriculum, as well as in terms of contemporary politics, culture, and values;
  6. to explore the ancient origins and understand the formation of our basic cultural assumptions and “common sense”;
  7. to contribute to the critical sensibility and enlightened understanding of the liberally educated individual.


Course Requirements: the principal forms of evaluation of your performance in this class will be in terms of critical writing, discussion, and oral presentation.

Writing Across the Curriculum (WAC) Requirements:

This writing-intensive course serves as one of the two “Gordon Rule” classes at the 2000-4000 level that [you must take] after completing ENC 1101 and 1102 or their equivalents. You must receive a grade of “C” (not C-minus) or better to receive credit. Furthermore, this class meets the University-wide Writing Across the Curriculum (WAC) criteria, which expect you to improve your writing over the course of the term. The University’s WAC program promotes the teaching of writing across all levels and all disciplines. Writing-to-learn activities have proven effective in developing critical thinking skills, learning discipline-specific content, and understanding and building competence in the modes of enquiry and writing for various disciplines and professions.

  1. Two major essays, written in multiple drafts:  rigorously graded for content and composition: totaling 50% of final grade:
    a) midterm essay, 1,000
    words with analytical outline (see sample question below) = 20% of final grade
    b) final essay, 1,500 words, written in two drafts = 30 % of final grade
    c) Both the midterm and final essays will be revised after receiving written and oral feedback from me (see weeks 5 and 12 on the syllabus below for classes and conference appointments dedicated to discussion of drafts); each of these essays, in the final draft, will be rigorously evaluated in terms of argumentation and evidence as well as grammar, mechanics, and style. The midterm essay is to be constructed out of the graded responses (see no. 2 below) on the individual philosophers covered week to week. These essays are graded holistically in terms of composition and receive paragraph-length comments from me on content. The analytical outline for the midterm is also to be constructed based  on the graded responses done to date; it should lay out the essay’s introduction with thesis statement, body including topic sentences and textual citations with relevant points to be made in terms of the evidence, and conclusion in light of the thesis and topics discussed. The outline will be discussed in class based on student’s presentation of their material in class discussion, with individual conferencing as needed. The final essay will be written in two complete drafts; the first draft will be discussed in individual conferences with me in preparation for the final draft. See detailed commentary under Essay II (Final) below.
  2. A series of reading responses, in and out of class, essay format, each typically 300-500 words (in class) or 700-1,000 words (out of class):  3,000 words minimum total = 40 % of final grade; holistically graded for content and composition; “holistic grading” here means that I will provide a paragraph of commentary on the argumentation and evidence used in each essay as well as running commentary on grammar and mechanics; each essay will be evaluated for a grade principally in terms of argumentation and use of evidence, but will still receive substantial feedback about compositional skills.
  3. Class participation, including discussion & presentation: = 10 % of final grade.
    Total graded words to be completed in the course: 5,400 (including final drafts of major essays and single-draft responses; not including graded drafts).
  4. University of Minnesota online Writing Handbook will be employed as a guidebook for English composition:
  5. Writing will be graded for grammar, mechanics, organization, argumentation and style; major essays will be graded by standards commensurate with publishable writing; reading responses (informal essays) will be graded principally for content but will include some grammatical and stylistic comments and evaluation.
  6. Writing Portfolio: all of your assignments for the term are to be collected in a writing portfolio, which you should submit at the end of the term, along with your final essay. You should organize the portfolio in reverse, with the most recent work on top. Please use a simple paper file folder for this purpose (no plastic). Maintenance of your portfolio is to be considered as part of your class participation grade (see no. 2 above).
  7. Drafts will be discussed in class as well as by appointment (see weeks 5 and 13 below).

Guidelines for writing reading responses and formal and informal essays, including examples of essay questions:

1)      general principles:  Informal and formal essays should be organized in deductive, inductive, or dialogical form; one paper during the term will be in narrative form (you will have the opportunity to write your own philosophic myth, as in Plato’s Allegory of the Cave).  The principal differences between your informal responses and your formal essays will be in length of development and in the process of revision.

2)      Specific guidelines:
a) deductive or thesis-support organization: this essay will be organized into an introduction, a body, and a conclusion:
The introduction should present the subject of your essay for a wide, educated audience who are somewhat familiar with the ancient Greeks and may know of a philosopher or two, but who will need you, the writer, briefly to explain how each philosopher fits into the history of Greek thought, what key terms mean, and why the issues you deal with in your essays should be of interest; the introduction will culminate in a thesis which is a succinct statement of the principal argument of your essay. Thesis: “Plato’s theory of Forms was, as Aristotle would demonstrate, actually a faulty theory of predication.”
            The body of your essay should be organized into a series of paragraphs each of which is organized into a topic sentence and a series of examples illustrating the topic, evaluating the topic in terms of pros and cons, or analyzing the topic in terms of its components. Each topic sentence should be logically connected to the thesis statement; you should remind your reader explicitly of how each topic is relevant to your thesis. Based on the thesis stated above,  one topic sentence might say: “Plato’s theory of Forms was, in his view, a clear way of explaining, first, why natural objects remain distinct, second, how we can know those objects, and finally why they exhibit ‘degrees of perfection and imperfection’”; another might say, “Aristotle argued that the grammar of sentences, parsed into subject and predicate, can serve as the basis of understanding both definite forms of natural objects and our clear understanding of them.” Each of these topics could itself be broken down into subtopics, either for the organization of complex paragraphs or for the development of separate paragraphs. Thus you could write an entire paragraph on the topic, “Plato argued that the distinct existence of natural objects could be accounted for by their ‘partaking’ of ideal Forms.”
            The conclusion of your essay should summarize key points made in terms of the topics and examples of the body in light of the introduction, and return to reiterate your thesis in light of the ideas presented overall. You should leave your readers with a refined understanding of our original argument and some lasting food for thought. Remember here as in your introduction who your audience is and what their interests are likely to be. You might of course address the philosophers among them, as well as those less initiated into the difficulties of this discipline, striking a balance between the serious and the merely curious student of your work.
b) inductive organization: arguing to derive a reasonable thesis from evidence via a guiding question.
c) dialogical form: developing an argument in terms of a conversation among interlocutors who represent different points of view.
c) narrative order:  developing your idea in terms of a “story” (plot, character, imagery, symbol).

3)      Grading criteria: formal: A, B, C, D, F; informal:  √++   √+       -  √ - -; the same qualitative measures (below) will be applied under both formal and informal criteria, but under the informal the content of writing (its ideas and reasoning) will be emphasized while its composition (grammar, mechanics, organization, and style) will be noted but not emphasized; under the formal criteria, both content and composition will be emphasized; thus it’s easier to get a √++ than an A, but any compositional problems noted in the √++ essay and not corrected in the formally graded essay will likely prevent the latter from receiving an A; thus informal writing will serve to provide feedback about composition which should be incorporated into the writing of formal assignments. The following descriptions of grades are exemplary but not definitive: they do not constitute exclusive criteria for the receipt of grades in each category; they are meant to provide guidelines for judgment, not to determine it.
A / √++:
the essay argues a clear thesis in terms of a series of topics and supporting examples; it is organized coherently into introduction, body, and conclusion, with logical transitions between paragraphs; it is based on a careful and through reading and presentation of textual and historical evidence; it not only answers the question but also offers its own, distinctive insight into the problem posed; there are few if any errors in grammar and mechanics; it is written in lucid language with varied sentence structure, versatile vocabulary, and astute word choice. A key indicator is that the language used is consistent with the writing of a distinguished Honors Thesis in the senior year.  In inductive, dialogical, or narrative writing the same qualitative standards will apply but in terms of each distinct form of organization: inductive: the detailed, consistent, derivation of general principles from evidence, leading in clear steps toward the answer to a question; dialogical: the dialectical working out of ideas through their interchange, particularly conflicting views of a problem, leading toward a reasonable resolution; narrative: the controlled use of plot, character, imagery, and symbol to represent ideas iconically, clearly illustrating concepts or problems, including intellectual conflicts and their resolutions, allegorically, as in Plato’s famous story of the Cave.
B / √+:  the essay has a clear thesis with good support (or question and derivation of answer, or dialectical interplay of ideas, or ideational narrative); but it does not represent its ideas as clearly, utilize evidence as thoroughly and precisely based on the most discerning standards of reading; its organization is clear but not as tightly interlinked as in the A paper; its language is reasonably communicative but not lucid; its sentences are more repetitive and less varied in organization; its word choice is less diverse and less exactly keyed to the concepts expressed; there are more frequent errors in grammar and mechanics, though the writing on the whole is commensurate with the production of a successful Honors Thesis in the senior year.
C / √:  
the essay presents a thesis but its components could be clearer and more carefully conceived: e.g., “Thales was an ancient philosopher who thought about nature,” instead of, “The early Greek philosopher Thales posed the first theory designed to explain all phenomena in the cosmos in terms of a single cause.” The thesis, moreover, is not developed in terms of clear and consistent topics supported by appropriate evidence (or does not pursue a key question consistently in terms of a careful presentation of evidence, or does not construct a dialogue with clear thematic development, or does not create a clear narrative based on characters and images that effectively convey ideas). There are several (at least) errors in English composition per page (see grading symbols below). In general, the essay is not clearly argued and not well written, though it is just “passable” by common standards of literacy.
D / √ -  : 
The essay does not have a clear thesis; its paragraphs are not organized into identifiable topic sentences and, if topics are present, they are not logical components of the thesis;  nor are topics supported by useful evidence; thus the essay does not develop a clear theme (whether deductively, inductively, dialogically, or narratively); there are multiple errors in composition per page; thorough revision is required targeting the organization, argumentation, evidencing, and composition of the text.
F / √ - -:
The essay presents no clear arguments, it is disorganized and its ideas, when discernible, are not supported by evidence; the study reveals little or no familiarity with the assigned texts; there are also typically numerous errors in composition throughout; the writer has clearly not taken the assignment seriously or clearly has not studied the relevant material. 

4)      Grading symbols for grammar and mechanics: If you are unfamiliar with these terms, please research them at
CS =     “comma splice”
D = “diction” or “word choice”
DOC = “documentation style”
frag =  “sentence fragment”
M =     “mood” (indicative, subjunctive, interrogative, imperative)
PA =    “pronoun-antecedent agreement” or PR “pronoun reference”
A/PV = “active or passive voice”
SV =    “subject-verb agreement”
T =      “verb tense” (either the wrong tense or an inappropriate tense shift)

Sample Essay Questions including brief Grading Criteria:

Reading Response (in class):  (to be graded based on the clarity of your argument, the inventiveness of your surmise(s) about the basic assumptions in question, and the overall quality of your English composition). The early Greek philosopher Thales is said to have concluded that “all things are derived from water.” Unfortunately, his arguments are lost. Write a short essay (300-500 words) in which you reconstruct an argument by which he might have reached the above conclusion. The key task here is to make his reasoning clear by starting with his “answer,” identifying the underlying question, and the likely steps leading to the solution.


Midterm Essay (1,000 words, written out of class, including a preliminary analytical outline):  (this assignment will be evaluated in terms of a) the clarity of argumentation (your ability to reason, step by step from premises to conclusion); b) the insightfulness of your analysis (your ability develop hypotheses about the assumptions underlying the texts in question); c) the quality of your judgment based on your own view of the problems raised by the philosophers; d) grammar, mechanics, organization, and style—see more detailed grading criteria above). The early Greek Milesian philosophers, Thales, Anaximander, and Anaximenes, developed “materialist” theories about “nature” (physis) which led to their reputation as “physicists.”  The Greek Italian philosopher Pythagoras and his students developed the “idealist” theory that nature was derived from “numbers.” Write a 1,000 (minimum) word essay in which you: 1) explain the assumptions and the arguments that lead the Milesians and Pythagoreans to their conclusions; 2) identify key similarities and differences between the two schools; 3) evaluate the materialist and idealist forms of explanation in light of what you take to be a credible understanding of the world. (Notice that in part 3 you will have to identify your own assumptions, produce your own argument, and draw your own conclusion that agrees with one, the other, neither, or both of the two schools. You might consider how much you yourself know based on your observation of the world, and how much you have simply assumed to be true based, e.g., on the authority of science.)


Alternative Midterm Essay (1,000 words, out of class, including a preliminary series of character sketches): (this assignment will be graded based on the clarity of the arguments presented, the authenticity of your characters as measured by how accurately they represent the arguments of the relevant Greek philosophers; the quality of your insight into the basic problems in Greek philosophy; the quality of your English composition, including grammar, mechanics, organization, and style):  Write a 1,000 word (minimum) dialogue in which Anaximenes and Pythagoras argue about the “nature of nature.” Have the two characters consider: 1) what they think that nature is; 2) why they think it is that way; 3) why each thinks his view of nature is better than the other’s; 4) other key issues that you take to be of significance in early Greek thinking. You might include yourself as a character in the dialogue, offering a preface, a conclusion, and witty interjections, to bring out what you take to be the most important features of the debate and why you think so.


Essay II (Final) :  (final essay 1,500 words minimum, out of class): (this essay is to be written in two complete drafts. As with Essay I, the key contents of Essay II will have been explored in terms of your weekly Responses thus far (on which you have received written feedback on content and composition); based on these response, you should construct the first draft of Essay II; this should be a serious attempt to develop an argument about the development of Greek philosophy from the Sophists through Plato and Aristotle in deductive (thesis-support), inductive (evidential enquiry leading to a conclusion), or dialogical form; you should discuss this draft with me (by appointment); the final draft should be a revision of the first based on our discussion; both drafts must be submitted together for a final grade; the assignment will be graded based on: a) the clarity of your (or your characters’) argumentation; b) the reasonableness of your claims about the key ideas in the texts studied in light of evidence you present to support your arguments; c) the quality of your insights into the problems of early Greek thinking; d) the quality of your English composition, including grammar, mechanics, organization, and style.  Based on any four of your Response essays or dialogues on ancient Greek philosophy since the Presocratics, please answer the following question: what were the key problems of early Greek thinking bequeathed to their descendants by the Presocratics? How did Socrates, Plato, and Aristotle attempt to solve these problems? What issues did their theories leave unresolved for philosophers to come?


Students enrolled in this course agree to abide by the Honors College Honor Code.  Please review this important document:


Required Texts:

Cohen, Marc et al. Readings in Ancient Greek Philosophy, 3rd edition (Hackett, ISBN 0-87220-769-2)..

Plato.  Plato's Sophist, Seth Benardete trans. (University of Chicago Press, ISBN 0-22667-032-5).

Electronic Sources:

Some Guidelines for Writing Papers in Philosophy:

Selections from Greek Philosophy and Literature (Greek, English, French):
Williams College: "Paper Writing Strategies for Introductory Philosophy Courses": 
Watson, Ellen, University of Queensland : "A Guide for Writing Papers in Philosophy":
Pryor, James, Harvard University: "Guidelines on Writing a Philosophy Paper":
Portmore, Douglas, College of Charleston: "Tips on Writing a Philosophy Paper":
"A Brief Guide for Writing Philosophy Papers":
Franklin, R.L., University of New England: "On Writing Philosophy Assignments":

Studying Philosophy on the Internet:
American Philosophical Association:
Aristotle: Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy:
Biography of Aristotle:
Biography of Plato:
Early Greek Philosophers: 
Exploring Plato’s Dialogues:
Internet Classics Archive:
Perseus Project:
Philosophy Resources on the Internet:
Philosophy Text Collection: Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy:
Plato: Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy:
Pre-Socratic Philosophy:
Pythagoras’ theory of  Number:
Pythagoras & Pythagoreanism:
Pythagoras & the Music of the Spheres:
Pythagorean Number & the Cosmos:
Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy:

Weekly Sequence of Assignments:             

1 Aug. 24-26              
T: Course Introduction; Early Greek philosophy and cultural history; From Mythology to Philosophy: Homer, Hesiod and the Presocratics, Cohen, introduction, pp. 1-7;
R: Milesians: Posing the question: "What one thing accounts for all other things?": Thales, Anaximander, Anaximenes, Cohen pp. 8-14.

2  Aug. 31-Sept. 2
T & R:  Music, Mathematics and the Order of Things: Pythagoras and Pythagoreanism, Philolaus; in Cohen; The origins of the European sciences: Part I; Animated Proof of the Pythagorean Theorem , More Proofs of the Pythagorean Theorem , Proof by Drag-and-Drop , Pythagoras in the History of Mathematics, Pythagorean Number and the Cosmo .Response 1.

3 Sept. 7-9
T: Poetry and Philosophy: Xenophanes; all things in flux: Heraclitus;
R: The Logic of Being: Parmenides in Cohen; Response 2.

4   Sept. 14-16
T: The Eleatics, in Cohen; 
R: Pluralism: Empedocles, Anaxagoras; Response 3.

5 Sept. 21-23
T: The reconciliation of changeless being with changeful phenomena: Atomism: Leucippus and Democritus, in Cohen; Response 4.
R: Essay I: Analytical outline due (including Introduction with thesis; Body with topics and examples drawn from the assigned texts, as well as key points to be argued; Conclusion, return to thesis in light of discussion in the body to make final point or raise final question/s).  In-class discussion of draft; make appointments with me to discuss drafts on an individual basis.

6  Sept. 28-30
T: The Sophists: Rhetoric; Protagoras, Gorgias, Antiphon, and Critias, in Cohen; Socrates’ new form of questioning: What is piety? Euthyphro, in Cohen. 
R: ESSAY I DUE; further discussion of

7   Oct. 5-7
T: Rethinking the Greek Intellectual Tradition: Socrates and Plato: Cohen, pp. 83-90;. Socrates’ self-defense: Apology;
R: Crito, in Cohen.

8    Oct. 12-14
T: Virtue and Recollection: an illustration from geometry in Meno :  Halving a Square; separating the soul from the body, katharsis in the Phaedo.
R: The death of Socrates: arguments for the immortality of the soul. Knowledge, recollection, virtue and immortality: the Phaedo. Presentations.

9   Oct. 19-21
T & R: Arguments for the immortality of the soul and the Theory of Forms: Phaedo continued; Response 5 Thurs. Presentations.

10  Oct. 26-28
T & R: Plato on Power, Justice and the Ideal State: Republic, Books I-IV in Cohen; Part III;  Response 6: narrative.

11   Nov. 2-4
T & R: Knowledge, Belief, Appearance and Reality: Plato’s Republic, Books V-VII in Cohen;  Response 7. Presentations.

12   Nov.  9-11
T: Plato revisits an old problem and his own theory, from Parmenides, in Cohen; Zeno, in Cohen, pp. 59-75; begin Plato’s Sophist
R: Plato’s Sophistl

13  Nov. 16-18
T: :  Plato Sophist cont’d.
R: Holiday

14  Nov. 23-25
 T:   Plato, Sophist;
 R:  Plato, Sophist.

15  Nov. 30th- Dec. 2th
T:  Plato, Sophist; Rough Draft of final essay due.
     Aristotle’s methodology of knowledge, Categories; discussion, review.
R:  Exam Week

16 Exam Week
T: FINAL ESSAY Due Dec. 7th at 10:30 AM;  Exam period 10:30-1:00:  discussion of final essays.