Notes on Introduction to Philosophy -- Phil A201

William Jamison - Instructor

Lecture 2

Oral Traditions: Keep in mind some points about the ancient texts that we have available to us. The Greek alphabet of the classics seems to have been developed specifically to write down the Homeric poems. Assume then that prior to this what we have are oral traditions. Oral traditions have characteristics that are very different from text based traditions. While texts tend to remain relatively identical over time, depending on the intentions of those that transmit them, those who today still keep to oral traditions have different standards of what “the same thing” is. Long poems seem to change in the telling but the artists consider them the same anyway. They may be best viewed as evolving. An example of such a process is the Odyssey. Was this originally the Vedas?

Summaries of the main points of dialogues:

Euthyphro: Socrates engages Euthyphro while waiting for their trials. Euthyphro wants to put his father on trial for the "murder" of the slave. The question revolves around the concern: Is the holy (right) what the gods choose or is the holy (right) something separate from the gods' will? Since for the Greeks gods are in conflict with one another, so right can be wrong from a different god's perspective. QUESTION: what is the right? (is this what we mean by holy? what is pleasing to the gods?) For those who believe in God, you might pose the question in this context: God speaks to you and tells you what is right and pleasing to God. You answer God, "so?" What grounds are there for me to believe that what you think is right is right for me?

Apology: the trial.

What is the charge? Earlier charges are mentioned: life long talk, the problem of prejudice. Then Anytus and his supporters.

Earlier: ex. Aristophanes, "The Clouds" quote p. 19

Socrates' describes his mission - the oracle, the wisest man, "I knew I knew nothing, so I knew more than they did." p. 21 craftsmen had knowledge of their craft but this led them to think they knew other things as well which obscured the wisdom they did have. People are angry with Socrates rather than with themselves because both he and the young kids make it obvious that they don't know what they are talking about - who wants to appear a fool? Standard accusations! p. 22

Meletus - Socrates is guilty of being a bad influence on the young. Who is a good influence? All!

Compare the care of horses - most harm them.

If someone does harm deliberately then they are creating an evil environment which is stupid, it harms themselves.

There is gods contradiction here as well. p. 27 I will obey god and not you.

p. 31 Guilty verdict: the vote is only 30 off. The question now is punishment: Death or what should be the alternative? (Were there other reasons, political reasons, for this trial and was the verdict already certain? Check the relationship Socrates had with Alcibiades for more on this.)

Socrates proposes a life of leisure - but how about 3000 drachmas. Choice is Death.

Crito: There is an offer to escape (actually, traditional recourse) but Socrates argues to support the law even if the people were not just. A man should never do wrong. He argues that you should love the state that gave us life.

Phaedo: Existence of the soul.

Death of Socrates

Republic: Justice


The three (or more) types of personalities, Gold, Silver, Brass and Iron.

Our Cornford translation uses a different word for the “Eastern tale” which could also be considered a “lie” or a “myth” but seems primarily to stress that a caste system was not considered Greek but foreign.

Here are some links of interest: (if they work for you)


Moving to Aristotle:

One of Plato's students was Aristotle. When Plato died Aristotle left the main "campus" of the Academy and went away to a branch campus. After several years there he was called to Macedonia by King Philip to tutor his son, Alexander. At the death of Philip (who was assassinated just before setting out on a military campaign against the Persians) Alexander assumed his fathers position in front of the army. Aristotle returned to Athens and began his own school, called the Lyceum. His first slide:

Reevaluation of Plato


Logic - method of inquiry for all the others


mathematics, physics, biology, psychology and metaphysics


Ethics, Politics

Productive - Poetics - artistic creation

Slide two:

Four Causes

Material - that from which something is made

Formal - that into which something becomes

Efficient - that by which something is made

Final - that for which something is made

Reality is a plurality of individual substances,

each a fusion of form and matter,

ordered in a great chain of being from God on down

Highest Good is self realization - eudaimonia

Explanation: Aristotle begins the philosophical position known as "Realism." He was critical of Plato even though he loved him. He felt our knowledge of things came through our experience, not a previous existence in heaven. He examined language, logic, and everything he could, with an incredible appetite for knowledge. Yet moderation was his recommendation in everything else. His ethical theory focused living a life by aiming at the golden mean between extremes.

The highest good is being all you can be, especially with regard to those characteristics of man that makes him so different from the animals, rationality.

There were many values shared between Aristotle and the Platonists, and both theories aim at showing how a community can best enable the good for it's citizens, and how the citizens must be in harmony with their community for them to live the good life. But there were many significant differences between them as well.

Unfortunately, with the death of Alexander, Aristotle had to flee Athens. His work never gained the popularity that the Academy had and his work is mostly lost to the west, for a time, as the interest in Greek thought remains primarily with Idealism and other schools following Socrates ideas, but one philosopher that had impact on the Romans, that makes use of Aristotle's ideas was Epicurus.

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