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UCL Summer School in Ancient Philosophy 2021

The 2021 UCL Summer School in Ancient Philosophy will be offered online. 

Plato Aristotle by Raphael

University College London
Monday 12 July to Friday 16 July 2021

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. Given the online setting of the course, times may be subject to modifications which will be communicated in advance. Students will have access to a variety of online material before and throughout the course. The fee is £130. The course is not residential. Bursaries may be available for certain categories of students.
 
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 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 ETHICAL THEORIES 

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.

ROMAN PHILOSOPHY

This course is for anyone who is interested in how the philosophical ideas introduced by the Ancient Greeks were understood, interpreted, and adapted by the Latin speaking world. The course is ideal for those who are already familiar with the main works of Plato and Aristotle and who have some knowledge of the PreSocratics (perhaps those who have previously attended the Introductory course to Ancient Philosophy or equivalent). Much of our time will be spent undertaking a comparative study of these ancient works alongside the writings of Cicero, Lucretius, and Apuleius. We will aim to answer the following questions: What were these authors’ aims when writing about Greek philosophy for a Roman audience? Did they consider their work to be original? To what extent did the translation of Greek philosophical terminology alter the way in which the original ideas were understood? Knowledge of Classical Languages is not required; all texts will be provided in English.

MYSTERY, SCIENCE AND THE DIVINE & ANCIENT GREEK PHILOSOPHY IN CONVERSATION WITH MODERN COSMOLOGY

The two courses are offered in tandem throughout the week.

Mystery, Science and the Divine

In the history of ideas it is often presupposed that the reason Greek philosophy is one of the greatest intellectual achievements of humankind is because it developed a form of thinking which we call rational. This rationality is what has enabled us to develop scientific methodologies which have become integral to the advancement of civilisation and culture such as medicine, psychology, mathematics and physics. Nevertheless, this narrative surreptitiously contains within it the seeds of its own destruction, for it dangerously narrows down our conception of rationality. Furthermore, if the value of ancient philosophical thinking is due only to its contribution of a type of thinking that has led to the formal sciences then this would entail that ancient philosophy is obsolete beyond its historical interest. More significantly, such a narrative neglects the most pervasive question that engaged most, if not all, of the ancient philosophers, which is moreover the one from which the aforementioned rational sciences developed: ‘what is our relation to the divine and the cosmos at large?’
This question was considered by the ancients to guide all of our philosophical inquiries and in particular in later antiquity it developed into several systematic and methodical sciences which in contemporary studies have been denigrated and described as pejorative or illicit sciences; such fields as magic, alchemy and astrology. These ‘illicit sciences’ are banished from the ‘rational sciences’ because of their connection to the divine. This course is a challenge to the standard narrative. On the one hand it highlights the ways through which alchemy and magic were influenced by ancient Greek philosophy and on the other it focuses on the philosophical aspects of specific subjects like those of theurgy, divination, hermeticism, spirit and transmutation and astrology. This background will provide us with the appropriate tools to reexamine Dodd’s arguments on the “irrationality” of Greek thought and put ourselves into a fruitful discussion on the actual status and value of the occult sciences both in the ancient Greek world and in modern period.

 This course is open to all who are interested in the philosophy of later antiquity, in particular those areas where philosophy, science and religion converge. Previous knowledge of the materials and subject matter is not required. The course will nevertheless be aimed at gaining both a broad and in depth understanding of the original texts in translation and the possible interpretations of these. Special attention will be given to dialogue during the course and participants will be encouraged to actively participate in discussions.

Ancient Greek Philosophy in Conversation with Modern Cosmology

The startling beauty of the night sky and its stars was a sight that attracted the wonder of many ancient philosophers. From this visceral experience of the celestial phenomena the ancients raised the very first questions with respect to the origins of our world and our place in it. The involvement in such subjects and questions gave rise to cosmology, an ancient Greek word which denotes a rational speech or account about the cosmos, that is, the world. Our fascination with cosmological ideas has never faded and with the ever-increasing specialisation of thought we have gained ever-more precise knowledge on particular subjects. Yet, this specialisation also leaves us poorer in not having a more integrated and rounded understanding of our world and reality. These schisms in thought ripple throughout the sciences and the humanities and the urgency of this problem is becoming ever more recognised and combatted by a movement towards integration and inter-disciplinarity. Erwin Schrödinger the nobel physicist once wrote that one of the greatest attractions of ancient Greek thought is that “there was no limitation as to the subjects on which a learned man would be allowed by other learned men to give his opinion” … “because never before or since, anywhere in the world, has anything like their highly advanced and articulated system of knowledge and speculation been established without the fateful division which has hampered us for centuries and has become unendurable in our days.”  

In this same spirit this course will enter into an exploration of the conceptual similarities and differences between ancient and modern speculations about the physical world and the cosmological concerns attached to these. Can we talk about a complete historical rupture between the two or may one determine a similar kernel of thought that permeates both? The course will aim to evoke the critical thought of its participants in order to determine what is the actual relation between ancient Greek and modern cosmological ideas, whether these notions are logically necessitated or historically produced, the role of methodology for arriving at conclusions and how far caution is required when making cosmological speculations. This journey of exploration into cosmological thought will delve into prospective topics which occupied the ancients just as much they do us today, such as: 
1.    The origins of the cosmos
2.    The big bang and its connection to ancient cosmology
3.    Ancient and modern theories of time 
4.    The nature of nature and the ongoing debate about whether it is continuous or fragmented: Epicureans vs. Stoics
5.    The universe: probabilistic or deterministic?

 

BRINGING ORDER TO CHAOS: The Origin and Nature of the World in Plato’s Timaeus

Plato’s Timaeus is a remarkable work; and given that it was one of the very few of Plato’s dialogues that was known in the West during the medieval period, it has had an outsized influence on the development of Platonism, and on the interaction between ancient thought and Christianity. Toward the beginning of the dialogue, one of the discussants identifies the topic when he says that the main speaker—the Pythagorean character Timaeus of Locri—will give an account “beginning from the generation of the cosmos, and ending with the nature of human beings” (27a6–7). In this course we will follow the contours of Timaeus’ story. Along the way, we will consider the metaphysics that lies at the heart of Plato’s account of the origin and structure of the universe. We will examine the place of living things and of human beings in particular, in the cosmos, through Plato’s vivid and extended macrocosm/microcosm analogy. Following on from this we will discuss the distinctive account of the human soul, its relation to the body, and the view of human cognition and motivation that emerges from it. Finally we will look at the ethical dimension of Plato’s work and we’ll ask: What, if anything, can science tell us about ethics? This course requires some background in philosophy, but it need not be in ancient philosophy. 

WORLD PHILOSOPHY: India and Europe - Dialogue, Difference, Decolonisation

This course will focus on Indian philosophy and explore its dialogic relationship with European thought from ancient to contemporary contexts. We will examine the foundations of ancient and classical Indian philosophy and possible early interconnections with Greek thought via the Indo-Greek kingdoms. We will also compare elements of the traditions, such as the syllogism in Indian and Greek logic, to evaluate what might be gained by illuminating systems of reasoning and epistemologies together. Turning to later developments, we will consider the ways in which Indian and European philosophies were interwoven during the 19th and 20th centuries as a result of the colonial encounter – considering a range of interactions from productive to oppressive. After translation into European languages, texts such as the Upanishads and the Bhagavad Gita had a significant impact on European thinkers from Schlegel to Schopenhauer. Equally, Indian thinkers such as Rammohan Roy in the 19th century and Mukerji and Bhattacharya in the 20th century were educated in both Indian and European traditions and employed Vedanta philosophy to respond to European thought such as Kant and Hegel. Our exploration will also integrate current frameworks and discussion on global philosophies and decolonisation.

BEGINNER'S GREEK WITH PLATO

This course has been designed to enable students without any knowledge of Greek to begin to read and write the language in the original using Plato's Meno. We will use Frank Beetham's book Learning Greek with Plato - A beginner's course in Classical Greek, Liverpool University Press, 2014 and we expect to cover at least up to section 12 (p. 147) of this book.

 

We will start with the alphabet and accentuation and move on to examine basic rules of grammar and syntax concerning cases, the declension of nouns and the fundamental system of verb endings as well as the content of some selected passages from Plato's Meno. In our classes we will also discuss new vocabulary and we will aim to practice through exercises.

 

By the end if the course the student will be able to:

 

- understand the main rules of Greek grammar and syntax

- appreciate Plato's style and language

- begin to read Classical philosophy in Greek

- relate a translation of the text and follow a commentary on the basic ideas

 

The course is open to anyone interested in Platonic ideas and ancient philosophy in the original Greek. No prior knowledge of Greek is required for this course.

 

A WEEK WITH PLATO

Is it Plato’s view that justice is more important than happiness? What is the source of evil in the world according to him? Does Plato believe in god(s) or is ‘god’ just another term for ‘reason’? What is his account of the physical world around us? Does Plato think that Forms are some sort of definitions?

We all know a little bit about Plato, but we seldom have the chance to study him thoroughly. This course is designed for students who are already familiar with Plato (ideally, students who have already attended an Introductory course to Ancient Philosophy or equivalent*) and who wish to acquire more in-depth knowledge of his philosophy by exploring new topics. Each day will be dedicated to a different topic and will alternate between reading and discussion.

Topics include (but are not limited to):

• Plato on happiness

• Plato on evil

• Forms, essences and definitions

• The nature of the sensible world

• Plato’s theology

Knowledge of Ancient Greek is not required; texts will be provided in translation.

* The course will assume a basic knowledge of Plato’s philosophy (e.g. familiarity with the theory of Forms; the tripartition of the soul; the philosopher king; the allegory of the cave; the analogy of the divided line). If you are unclear about the background for this course, or wish to prepare or refresh your mind by doing some preparatory reading, please do not hesitate to get in touch with us! We will be happy to advise you and provide you with some recommendations.

A WEEK WITH ARISTOTLE

Aristotle is famously a systematic thinker: in his Ethics, for instance, he informs us that the political scientist will require knowledge of the soul and human psychology, since ethics consists primarily in the study of the human good and of human virtue, and virtue is a state of the soul. His accounts of virtue acquisition or of psychology also appeal to fundamental notions in his metaphysics, and so on. In this course, we will cover topics from a range of areas in Aristotle’s thought – such as metaphysics, ethics, and moral psychology – and consider how these fit together. What is Aristotle’s distinction between actuality and potentiality, and how is this employed in his explanation of how moral virtue is acquired? What is the psychological capacity he calls ‘phantasia’— how is this distinguished from our capacities for perception or belief? – and how does this capacity shed light on Aristotle’s understanding of the emotions? What role do the emotions play in Aristotle’s account of moral virtue and moral habituation?
 
Classes will involve a range of activities, from lectures, to close reading of the texts, argument analysis, to group discussion. Some prior knowledge of ancient philosophy is advisable, though this need not be of Aristotle’s work.

EARLY GREEK PHILOSOPHY

Philosophy is one of the most striking intellectual contributions of the ‘Greek breakthrough’, but what are its beginnings? We all have heard about Socrates, Plato, Aristotle and their long-standing influence on Western thought, but it is often forgotten that their philosophical enterprise is anchored in an intellectual tradition dating back to Homer. This module will introduce students to the main protagonists of this fascinating period of Greek culture, by examining the fragmentary texts by early philosophers (i.e. Pythagoras, Heraclitus, Anaximander and Parmenides) as well as philosophically significant passages from works of literature, such as Homer’s Iliad and Hesiod’s Theogony. 

This will allow us to examine and appreciate how the Greek poets’ myths constituted an enduring frame of reference for later philosophers. Some of the central questions that lie at the heart of the module are: Is there a natural order or principle ruling the universe? If yes, what is it? How do things come to be and how do they perish? Is there something behind the sphere of phenomena? Can our knowledge of things inspire our ethical action? The texts will be read in translation and Greek terminology will be introduced to students when necessary. This module does not require previous knowledge of philosophy.
 

  • 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 £130 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 emailed to the Director, Dr Nicolò Benzi.


Useful information

  • Regulatory Framework

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