Penn State Penn State: College of the Liberal Arts
Department of Classics and Ancient Mediterranean Studies

CAMS 200: Ancient Philosophy

CAMS 200: Ancient Philosophy


Sentesy, Mark A


Tues, Thurs


12:05 - 1:20 P.M.


Willard Bldg 365


This course examines key themes, texts, and persons in ancient Greek philosophy, with the works of Plato and Aristotle at the core. We ask: What did Socrates mean when he said “the unexamined life is not livable by humans”? Or when Thales said “All begins in water”? Or when Epicurus said “Only pleasure is valuable”? Or when Parmenides said “You cannot speak of what is not”?

To answer these questions, we examine the cultural background of philosophical thinking (Homer and Hesiod; Near Eastern traditions; trade and empire), and we survey views about, for example, the universe’s structure and origin, the nature of reality and change, the status of knowledge and opinion, the best way of life for individuals and for societies, and the value of reason, persuasion, argument, and logic.

We also give close attention to the formation, meaning, and purpose of philosophy, wisdom, and sophistry. This includes analysis of the “myth reason” hypothesis, Milesian inquiry into basic principles (archai), physical vs. ethical inquiry, and the development of doctrine, discipline, and disagreement. In addition to the figures mentioned above, figures studied may come from the periods of the Presocratics (e.g., Pythagoras, Heraclitus, Xenophanes), Hellenism (Stoic, Epicurean, Cynic, and Skeptic), the Romans (e.g., Cicero, Seneca), and the Neoplatonists (e.g., Plotinus).