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UCL Summer School in Ancient Philosophy

Plato Aristotle by Raphael

University College London
Monday 29 July to Friday 02 August 2019

What are the origins of the world? How can we achieve happiness? What is the best form of government? Is democracy good? These are only some of the questions which ancient philosophers tried to answer more than 2,500 years ago. Their bold and unprecedented enterprise prompted an intellectual revolution, the relevance of which has not since faded. The Summer School in Ancient Philosophy aims to follow the steps of the ancient philosophers in their enquiries on the world and human life, and explore their continuing importance today.

The Summer School offers a five-day programme covering the major themes and thinkers of Ancient Philosophy. There will be four classes each day, between 10:30 am. and 3.30pm. The fee is £120. The course is not residential

Students will be assigned to teaching groups of normally not more than 15-20 people. Groups will comprise students with similar levels of knowledge of the subject.

Classes will consist of lectures, close reading of texts, and debates and will touch on a variety of themes, including ethics, metaphysics, and theories of knowledge. Texts will be studied in translation, though some classes will be offered in the original language. The style of teaching is friendly, but demanding. Students are expected to actively participate in classes, and they will be invited to discuss and critically engage with texts along with other students and teachers. Our tutors include some of the most talented and passionate teachers of ancient philosophy in the London area and beyond.

Courses

INTRODUCTION TO ANCIENT PHILOSOPHY

How did philosophy start in Ancient Greece? What were the Ancients thinking about, 2,500 thousands years ago? Is Ancient Philosophy still relevant today? These are all questions one may reasonably have when starting a course on Ancient Philosophy. The purpose of this course is to give an overview of the central figures and issues of Ancient Philosophy, to those with little familiarity of the subject. Following the Ancient way of doing philosophy, we shall not restrict ourselves to one specific area of study (like metaphysics or epistemology), but tackle philosophical problems in their complex nature, that is, by looking altogether at their ethical, metaphysical, epistemological and political dimensions. In doing this, we will spend Day One in discussing some of the theories held by the Pre-Socratic Philosophers. Days Two and Three will see us move on to Socrates and Plato, before spending Day 4 on Aristotle. We will conclude on Day 5 by learning about some of the theories held by the Ancient Stoics. Being an introductory module, the course is open to anyone with an interest in, but little familiarity of, Ancient Philosophy.

WHAT IS HAPPINESS? ANCIENT THEORIES ON ETHICS

What is happiness? How can it be achieved? Is virtue sufficient for it? Is happiness subject to, or even at the mercy of, luck? What is the value of friendship in the happy life? In other words, how should one live? These are some of the questions dealt with by ancient philosophers. In this module we shall consider the answers offered by Socrates, Plato, Aristotle, and some Hellenistic Schools (Stoics, Epicureans) with a view to assessing their philosophical merits and reconstructing the underlying debate in classical antiquity. We will read classic texts from Plato’s Protagoras, Gorgias, and Republic, Aristotle’s Nicomachean Ethics, Epicurus’ Letters and Cicero. In addition, we will draw on contemporary reflection (e.g. Kant, Utilitarianism, contemporary virtue ethics) whenever relevant. Some of the buzzwords with which participants will become familiar are the following: eudaimonia and eudaimonism, virtue ethics, intellectualism, hedonism, naturalism, lack of self-control/incontinence, to mention but a few. There are no prerequisites to attend this module. 

A WEEK WITH PLATO

What did Plato say about love? What were his views about education? Did Plato really think that philosophers should rule the city? How could Plato be confident that there is an absolute truth? Did Plato believe in god(s)? We all know a little bit about Plato, but we seldom have the chance to study him thoroughly. This course provides the opportunity to gain in-depth knowledge of the philosophy of Plato by exploring some of his major and also not so well-known texts.

Whom is this course for? This course is designed for students who are already familiar with Ancient Philosophy (ideally, students who have already attended an Introductory course to Ancient Philosophy or equivalent) and who wish to learn more about Plato in particular. Knowledge of Ancient Greek is not required; texts will be provided in translation.

ON ARISTOTLE'S METAPHYSICS: BOOKS I, VII, IX

The collection of treatises which came to be known as the Metaphysics, determined the name, scope and subject-matter of what Aristotle termed 'first philosophy', for all occidental thought ever since. In this course we explore three key treatises. Book I (Alpha) lays outs the project of the 'first philosophy' as a study of the first principals and causes. Towards this end, the treatise offers the first comprehensive history of philosophy, as it surveys the metaphysical positions of Aristotle's predecessors, from Thales to Plato. Book VII (Zeta) explores the famous diction that being is said in many senses. In the primary sense, being is determined as essence (ousia). Aristotle explores further the meaning of ousia, rejecting on the one hand the material substratum and on the other both the Platonic universal and the genus as likely candidates. Rather, ousia emerges as what a thing is, according to its own nature: this constitutes the proper definition of the thing. Finally, Book IX (Theta) explores potentiality (dynamis) and actuality (energeia). Accordingly, potentiality appears as the principle of change or transformation, the effected change of which is actuality. Fundamental distinctions such as between active and passive potentiality, as well as of orders of potentiality are established, along with the primacy of actuality over potentiality, a hierachisation with far-reaching consequences.

The course is aimed at people with previous knowledge in philosophy. Although broadly equivalent to a postgraduate level of study, the course is open to undergraduates, as well as to students and staff from other disciplines who wish to explore one of the foundational texts of Western philosophy. Knowledge of ancient Greek is welcome, but not mandatory.

STOICISM: NATURE, LIFE AND REASON

This course will take an in depth look at the rise of Stoicism as a dominant philosophical movement in the years immediately after Aristotle. We will be exploring their system of thought, paying particular attention to early Stoicism (Zeno, Cleanthes, Chrysippus), rather than late or imperial Stoicism (Marcus Aurelius, Seneca, Epictetus). The course will focus on the ideas developed by the early founders of Stoicism with regards to how we live our lives (ethics), the relations we have to ourselves, to other people and to the world around us (physics), and the way we come to know and understand things (logic/epistemology). There is a certain amount of overlap between these three parts of philosophy (ethics, physics, logic) as understood by the Stoics and we will explore some solid examples of how the first three heads of the school integrated their philosophy to provide a unified system of thought. In the process we will discover what the Stoics took to be the weaknesses in the systems of thought of Plato and Aristotle; the creative ways in which the Stoics responded to these weaknesses; and why Stoicism became so popular in the Hellenistic world and is experiencing a revival today. A study of the early foundations of Stoicism will help to inform and deepen our understanding of later Stoicism including the well-known (and less fragmentary) works of Marcus Aurelius, Seneca and Epictetus.

  • The full programme for the Summer School in Ancient Philosophy is currently under construction and will be available on this page as soon as possible
  • The cost of the Summer School is £120 and you can pay via UCL's online store. This includes all tuition, but not accommodation or travel expenses.

Enquiries

Please email the Summer School. Completed application forms should be returned to:
Dr Nicolò Benzi
UCL Summer School in Ancient Philosophy,
c/o Department of Greek and Latin,
University College London,
Gower Street,
London WC1E 6BT


Useful information

  • How to find us

University College London's Bloomsbury campus is located close to Euston station, and a short walk from Kings Cross/St Pancras.

➣ A map of the campus
➣ Information on local bus and tube services

  • Accommodation

The Summer School is non-residential. However, students who require somewhere to stay can (subject to availability) arrange accommodation in a University of London Hall of Residence. Details of prices, availability and information on how to book can be found on the website of the University of London. Places may be also available in a UCL Hall of Residence: for further information see the UCL Residences website.

  • Regulatory Framework

The UCL regulatory framework for life learning applies to this Summer School.