Online Course Details
Meeting ID: 899 7260 5697 | Passcode: 334712
The writings of Plato and Aristotle and of their later commentators survive in abundance, but from the end of the 4th Century BCE there were several other very significant schools of philosophy which flourished first in the Eastern Mediterranean and later throughout the Roman Empire. Two of these, the Stoic and Epicurean schools, were widely influential for two hundred years before and after Christ, leaving a mark on late Jewish and early Christian writings. Two strands of critical thought also had a lasting impact: the scepticism that developed in Plato’s academy and the more Buddhist-like Pyrrhonian scepticism, which seems to have influenced Epicurus. Then in the third century of our era Plotinus’ critical revival of Plato, in dialogue with Aristotelian and Stoic themes became influential in shaping the base language of Christian theology, as Christianity became the religion of Empire - and orthodoxy took on political significance. In late antiquity, Christian philosopher-scientists were among those who questioned some of the orthodoxies of Aristotelian physics. We will sample writings from the different schools across a number of familiar themes, and trace some of their impact on later Jewish, Christian and Islamic thought.
Stoics: the dynamic word
Zeno, Cleanthes and Chrysippus are the first three leaders of the Stoic school of philosophy, which met in the covered walkway (Stoa) in Athens. We shall explore some of their ideas about the nature of the universe, fate and human destiny. We’ll also explore some of the ethical themes found in later Stoic writers like Epictetus and Marcus Aurelius.
Epicureans: the city without walls
Epicurus represents a Democritean universe of atoms and the void in which the gods are irrelevant to human life. We shall explore his universe and his response to it: a practical philosophy that teaches people to cope with suffering and death through an intentional search for tranquillity.
Pyrrho: scepticism and the search for tranquillity
Epicurus was influenced by Pyrrho, who is reported to have travelled to India with Alexander and learnt wisdom from Indian sages. Our major source for Pyrrhonian doctrines is the much later writer, the medical doctor Sextus Empiricus. We shall explore some of the ways in which the tradition Pyrrho founded challenged philosophical creeds for the sake of peace of mind.
Plotinus: the overflowing One
Plotinus’ writings were gathered by his disciple, Porphyry, into six topic areas, each with nine discourses – the Enneads. Sometimes Plotinus is trying to tie up the loose ends left in the arguments of Plato and Aristotle, and sometimes he is using them to develop a distinctive cosmology, in which the whole universe emanates from an ultimate One beyond being and knowing. We shall explore some of his key texts that arguably hint at Christian and Jewish influence and foreshadow later Christian language of theology and spirituality.
Philosophical endings and new beginnings
This session will reflect on some of the innovative philosophical trajectories towards the end of Greco-Roman antiquity, and the reception of ancient philosophical debates in the newly established Islamic world of the Middle East.
Welcome to this course on the other post-Plato philosophers. As usual I'll be trying to introduce you to some primary text from the sources. This week there's quite a lot of that text, along with a bit of background, but most of it is - I hope - considerably easier to make sense of than some of the Aristotelian material. I'd draw your attention in particular to the 'Dream of Scipio' translation at the end. Though not strictly Stoic, it captures a lot of elements that are characteristic of Stoic doctrine, and gives a helpful, panoramic view of the sort of philosophical-eschatological ideas that were around in the Romano-Hellenistic world, and which had an influence on Jewish and Christian imaginations. Read as much as you feel able to, focus on what interests you and bring that into the small group discussions when we begin. I look forward to seeing you on the 14th.
Welcome to Epicurus -slightly more argument but considerably less text than last week. Enjoy it! Or should I say, allow it to free you from distress?
Please find a selection of sceptical text in the Pyrrhonian tradition compiled by Sextus Empiricus. Have a look at the arguments to get the flavour, but don't overthink them. This is philosophical anti-philosophy!
Dear all, please find attached selected texts of Plotinus for week 4. I'm afraid these are really difficult - so scan-read them first and then just look at small sections to see if you can get an idea of how it is supposed to work. If you want to compare with a proper translation in the quest for intelligibility, there is a Penguin Classics edition, which will not only have a good quality translation, but will also have a good introduction. Good luck!
John Moffatt SJ works at the London Jesuit Centre. His first degree was in Classics. He taught in London secondary schools intermittently between 1985 and 2016 and has worked briefly in University Chaplaincy. He has been involved with teenage and adult faith education in Britain and South Africa and has recently completed a doctorate in medieval Islamic philosophy.