Ancient & Medieval

“You can’t talk about truth without talking about learning how to die because it’s precisely by learning how to die, examining yourself and transforming your old self into a better self, that you actually live more intensely and critically and abundantly.” – Cornel West

“Go back inside yourself and look: if you do not see yourself as beautiful, then do as a sculpture does with a statue he wants to make beautiful: he chisels away one part, and levels off another, makes one part smooth and another clear, until he shows forth a beautiful face on the statue. Like him, remove what is superfluous, straighten what is crooked, clean up what is dark and make it bright, and never stop sculpting your own statue, until the godlike splendor of virtues shines forth to you.” – Plotinus

Historical Context: Examining the meaning of human existence always happens in specific historical and cultural contexts. This course is a select survey of four of the most important thinkers from Ancient Greek Philosophy and Medieval Christian Philosophy. Plato and Aristotle mark out the genesis of philosophy as an intellectual and spiritual tradition, and they remain the pivotal figures to which subsequent philosophical inquiry for the next two millennia returns. This period is also characterized by the cultural and political crises that occur in Athens in the 3rd and 4th century B.C.E. These crises brought playwrights, poets, politicians, and philosophers into intense debates regard the meaning of the good life. Augustine and other medieval thinkers are the direct heirs of Plato and Aristotle respectively, and baptized ancient Greek thought into distinct Christian philosophical frameworks. But the influence of Plato and Aristotle goes beyond the medieval period, and informs modern and contemporary Western culture.

Guiding Questions
1) What are the enduring questions of Greek Philosophy?
2) What does it mean to be wise, and how does one become so?
3) How do specific virtues inform a life of love and wisdom?

Required Texts
The Cave and the Light, Arthur Herman
Republic, Plato: Penguin Classics (Please get this translation)
Nicomachean Ethics, Aristotle: Penguin Classics (Please get this translation)
Reading Packet on medieval philosophers

Learning Outcomes for North Park’s Philosophy Program
The philosophy program at North Park is housed with the Division of the Humanities, Arts and Social Sciences. These academic programs are guided by their common mission.

The mission of the Humanities, Arts and Social Sciences faculty is to contribute to the interpretive, critical and creative practices of the Liberal Arts and model the same practices for our students. In doing so, the philosophy that connects our distinct disciplines prepare students to become citizens of world, authentic in their being, conscious of their faith, and active in love.

As its own discipline, the philosophy program at North Park is guided by a distinct vision:

The vision of the North Park University philosophy department is to become a community of truthful conversation. Our mission is twofold: 1) to guide the North Park University community in critical and edifying reflection on the good life through attentive reading, writing, and experience, and 2) to prepare our majors to serve the common good as public intellectuals.

This vision is realized through three learning outcomes:

• Graduates will have demonstrated a working knowledge of major movements, figures, texts, and conversations in the history of philosophy.
• Graduates will have applied philosophical thinking to everyday experiences within contemporary cultures.
• Graduates will have loved human community as shaped by truthful conversation and reflection on the good life.

Learning Outcomes for the Course
Upon completion, students will demonstrate through written and oral communication:

  1. Knowledge: a general knowledge of the major philosophical positions that Plato, Aristotle, Augustine and medieval thinkers took in the areas of metaphysics, epistemology, and ethics. (e.g. Plato’s theory of the forms, Aristotle’s 
philosophy of human nature, Augustine’s philosophy of the will, Plato’s conception of the forms, etc.)
  2. Critical Thinking: the ability to think critically about the philosophical arguments presented by these philosophers and 
formulate coherent arguments for or against their positions. (e.g. outline the argument of Plato’s Symposium, articulate a structured argument that lays out your case for or against Augustine’s view of human freedom.)
  3. Existential Reflection: the ability to relate one’s own life experience and contemporary cultural with these authors and their ideas. (e.g. present the differences and similarities between the contemporary practice of friendship in the U.S. with the description given in Aristotle’s Ethics.)
  4. Communication: the ability to execute the skills particular to the discipline of philosophy at the introductory level in the areas of : critical reading, writing, oral presentation, and discussion facilitation. (e.g. present a paper and on the spot answer questions from peers about the paper’s claims, work with another student on facilitating a discussion of a particular text.)
  5. Collaboration: the ability to contribute to the education of one’s fellow students and professor by listening well, engaging the ideas of others, and helping others to clarify their own thinking. (e.g. practice attentive listening, responding to other students questions and claims in dialogue, etc.)

Assignments and Grading
All assignments must be completed to achieve a passing grade. The assignments include:

  1. Class Summaries (20% of final grade) Throughout the semester, students will be required to give summaries of either the required readings or of the previous class discussion.
  2. Exams: (45% of final grade) There will be three exams: one on Socrates/Plato, one on Aristotle, and one on Augustine/Aquinas.
  3. Debates: (15% of final grade): There will be several formal debates in class. Students will work in small groups, take sides, and prepare debate materials.
  4. Final Presentations: (15% of final grade): There will be several symposia, which are informal but intentional conversation days. Students will be required to demonstrate the skills of good conversation, listening, memory and critical thinking.
  5. Final Reflection:  (5% of final grade):  Due during finals week, there will be a final reflection you write one thing you learned through the course of the semester.

A = Outstanding, B = Good, C = Satisfactory, D = Passing, F=Unsatisfactory

A Video Teaser
Cornel West on the Examined Life and the Purposes of Philosophy

Reading and Assignment Schedule

Resources for Class
Routledge Encyclopedia Overview of Ancient Philosophy
Routledge Encyclopedia Overview of Medieval Philosophy
James Fieser’s Overview of Medieval Philosophy
Audio:  Roger Crisp Overview of Virtue Ethics
North Park Library Resource Page for Course

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