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Introduction to Greek Philosophy

More than 2,000 years later, the issues the ancient Greeks pondered continue to challenge, fascinate, and instruct us.
Introduction to Greek Philosophy is rated 4.6 out of 5 by 61.
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Rated 5 out of 5 by from Highly recommended. Among the approximately 70 courses that I have purchased and heard, this is in the top 10%. The lecturer is highly knowledgeable, very well prepared, articulate, and provides comprehensible explanations of the philosophical concepts that he presents. I am very pleased to recommend this course.
Date published: 2022-05-04
Rated 5 out of 5 by from FANTASTIC !! Absolutely incredible introduction to a subject most of us have heard of but probably few have studied. I'm going to search for everything else by this professor.
Date published: 2021-04-12
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Best introduction It is a great course as good as the tragedy of reason
Date published: 2021-03-26
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Classic. Even though this recording was made in 2001, the teaching and information could be understood through all time. I learned a great deal about Greek Philosophy through this course. I highly recommend this lecture series.
Date published: 2020-10-26
Rated 4 out of 5 by from I have found this set of lectures very interesting and informative. I am not well versed in this area and Professor Roochnik does an excellent job of presenting and explaining the material. He is very good about maintaining his objectivity and is quite clear when his opinion MAY slightly bias the presentation (although it rarely seems to). I would heartily recommend this work.
Date published: 2020-02-16
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Great intro Very happy I bought this lecture series. Large body of work explained well and it’s beautiful how it’s tied to modern philosophy
Date published: 2019-10-17
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Clear and fascinating I am about halfway through this course, but it is already one of my favorite Great Courses Philosophy series. Please find a way to do more courses with Professor Roochnik! His presentation is authoritative without being stuffy and the content is extremely interesting. His presentation on the Pre-Socratics shows how relevant they are to our modern world. For the first time, I have a real appreciation for their contribution to Western Philosophy.
Date published: 2019-04-20
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Putting some Greek philosophy on your Plato! This is my third course that I have listened to from the Great Courses. Overall, I am satisfied with Prof. Roochnik's course and I felt I learned a decent amount about Greek philosophy. Audio courses emphasize a speaker's delivery, and Prof. Roochnik has a clear voice that is easy to listen to and he does not have any distracting delivery issues. He does tend to circle back to points that he was making earlier in the lecture, which I know is a technique to aid memory, but doing this too often tends to slow down the momentum of the point he is making and shortens the time he has to make other points. What I liked about this course was that Prof. Roochnik is very well versed about Greek philosophy and has a passion for sharing his subject matter. Especially on Plato, and at times on Aristotle, the lectures were quite thrilling. Furthermore, the dialectical approach that the professor sets up for the course works very well, we get to see how each of the Greeks that he introduces us to would think about what their Greek counterpart would think of the same idea. The two lectures on Plato versus the Sophists were the most interesting lectures in the course. I only knew a minimal amount about the Pre-Socratics, which were covered heavily in this course. A few drawbacks of this course for me were that some of the lectures seemed "padded", by which I mean it didn't seem like he talked about that much new content in the specific lecture, but instead just reviewed what we previously learned, or only had a few sprinklings of new ideas. Also, I would have liked more schools of Greek philosophy covered, such as the Stoics, Epicureans, or even a bit on the Cynics or Skeptics. By only including four main Greek thinkers or schools of thought, I felt it was a bit more limited than I would have liked. I understand that this was an introduction to Greek philosophy, and I enjoyed this introduction. After an introduction, the next step is to build upon what you have learned and delve in more deeply. Thanks to Prof. Roochnik, I now feel ready to do so.
Date published: 2019-03-14
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Professor David Roochnik is your host and moderator for Western civilization’s greatest debate. What is reality? What are ethics, justice, and happiness? How shall we best live our lives? More than 2,000 years later, the issues the ancient Greeks pondered continue to challenge, fascinate, and instruct us.


David Roochnik

What if you were hurled into a time warp and came face to face with the Ancient Greeks? The Greeks invented trigonometry. They did autopsies and dissections. What could you tell an Ancient Greek that he couldn't say, 'Big deal.'?


Boston University

Dr. David Roochnik is Professor of Philosophy at Boston University, where he teaches in both the Department of Philosophy and the Core Curriculum, an undergraduate program in the humanities. He completed his undergraduate work at Trinity College, where he majored in philosophy, and earned his Ph.D. from Pennsylvania State University. Dr. Roochnik was awarded Boston University's Gitner Award in 1997 for excellence in teaching in the College of Arts and Sciences and the 1999 Metcalf Prize for campus-wide teaching excellence. He is the author of two books on Plato, The Tragedy of Reason: Toward a Platonic Conception of Logos and Of Art and Wisdom: Plato's Understanding of TECHNE. He has also published over 30 articles on a wide range of subjects in classical Greek philosophy and literature.

A Dialectical Approach to Greek Philosophy

01: A Dialectical Approach to Greek Philosophy

The approach of this course is "dialectical." The development of Greek philosophy is presented as a conversation between thinkers who respond to each other. The purpose is to invite the student to enter the dialogue that the Greeks began, and that continues to this day.

33 min
From Myth to Philosophy—Hesiod and Thales

02: From Myth to Philosophy—Hesiod and Thales

Thales is generally regarded as the first philosopher of the West. He claimed to have rationally discovered the origin (archê) of all things: water. With this claim, he fundamentally broke with the myth-makers of the past.

30 min
The Milesians and the Quest for Being

03: The Milesians and the Quest for Being

Thales and two other philosophers from Miletus-Anaximander and Anaximenes - agreed that the world has an origin (archê) that can be comprehended rationally. They disagreed, however, as to its nature. This dispute about Being was the first debate in Western philosophy.

30 min
The Great Intrusion—Heraclitus

04: The Great Intrusion—Heraclitus

Heraclitus of Ephesus (540-480) offered a daring response to the dilemma of Being and Becoming: he eliminated Being. According to Heraclitus, nothing is stable or permanent. But if reality is unstable, how can it have a rational explanation?

30 min
Parmenides—The Champion of Being

05: Parmenides—The Champion of Being

Parmenides of Elea (c. 515-440) responded to Heraclitus by eliminating Becoming. His was a supremely rationalist position that rejected "appearance" (doxa) - what the world seems like to our eyes, ears and other senses as totally unreliable and philosophically worthless.

31 min
Reconciling Heraclitus and Parmenides

06: Reconciling Heraclitus and Parmenides

Much of Greek philosophy in the fifth century attempted to reconcile the conclusions of Heraclitus and Parmenides. This lecture discusses three such efforts, by Democritus of Abdera (c. 460), Anaxagoras (500-428) and Empedocles (493-433).

31 min
The Sophists—Protagoras,

07: The Sophists—Protagoras, "the First 'Humanist"

The Sophists, a group of thinkers who lived in the fifth century, were professional teachers who traveled from city to city. This lecture focuses on Protagoras of Abdera, the first humanist in the West. He was a relativist for whom the distinctive feature of human beings was language, especially when applied to political deliberation and debate. Thus, he taught rhetoric, the art of speaking well.

31 min

08: Socrates

Socrates wrote nothing, and what we know of him comes from the writings of others. He was interested in ethical concepts, and sought definitions to such questions as "What is justice?" and "What is courage?" His basic concern was how a person could live a good life.

31 min
An Introduction to Plato's Dialogues

09: An Introduction to Plato's Dialogues

Plato wrote some 25 dialogues, a few of them (the Republic and the Laws), quite long. Only a small portion of Plato's writings will be addressed in this course. These themes will be selected with one consideration: How did Plato respond to his predecessors, the Sophists and the Presocratics?

30 min
Plato versus the Sophists, I

10: Plato versus the Sophists, I

Plato was profoundly opposed to the relativism of the Sophists. He believed that the idea that "human being is the measure of all things" was philosophically, morally, and politically pernicious. This lecture examines in some detail one argument the philosopher used against his Sophistic opponents.

30 min
Plato versus the Sophists, II

11: Plato versus the Sophists, II

Another strategy that Plato used against the relativism of the Sophists was the self-reference argument. In this sort of refutation, a position is used against itself. In the Theaetetus, Socrates uses the self-reference argument against Protagoras and Heraclitus.

31 min
Plato's Forms, I

12: Plato's Forms, I

In another dialogue, The Meno, Socrates asks his Sophistic opponent: "What is virtue itself?"; This question demands a universal definition that embraces all the particulars. This is "The Form of Virtue," a crucial Platonic concept that will be explained in some detail.

30 min
Plato's Forms, II

13: Plato's Forms, II

Why should anyone believe that there are Platonic Forms? This is a profound question in the debate about relativism. In Plato's dialogue the Phaedo, Socrates shows that the Forms cannot be derived from experience. Instead, they are "recollected." This lecture will explain what this means.

31 min
Plato versus the Presocratics

14: Plato versus the Presocratics

Plato was a fundamentally different kind of thinker from the Presocratics. They were phusiologoi, natural philosophers, interested mostly in giving an account of nature (a logos of phusis). By contrast, Plato was most involved with questions concerning the value and meaning of human life. For Plato, the world was saturated in value.

30 min

15: The "Republic"—The Political Implications of the Forms

The Forms played a crucial role in Plato's political thinking. This lecture turns to the "Parable of the Cave" in the Republic to consider the political implications of the Forms. The regime Plato seems to recommend is quite authoritarian. The ultimate authority, however, is not a man, but wisdom itself.

31 min
Final Reflections on Plato

16: Final Reflections on Plato

By focusing on Plato's critique of the Sophists and the Presocratics, these lectures have positioned him to enter into the major philosophical debates of today. Contemporary thought has two dominant worldviews: the scientific, which is the legacy of the Presocratics, and the relativistic, whose representatives today are descendants of the Sophists. In rejecting both, Plato offers a compelling middle way that is still viable.

30 min

17: Aristotle—"The Philosopher"

Aristotle's influence on Western civilization was monumental. He was so dominant that in the Middle Ages he was simply called "the philosopher." Unlike Plato, Aristotle gave systematic answers to the questions asked in each of these fields. This lecture covers some general characteristics of Aristotelian theory, and begins to discuss how it is both similar to, yet fundamentally different from, the modern conception of science.

31 min

18: Aristotle's "Physics"—What is Nature?

This lecture introduces Aristotle's Physics, his study (or theory) of nature. Aristotle appreciated the groundbreaking efforts of his predecessors, the Presocratics, but thought they put too much emphasis on material elements. As a student of Plato, Aristotle insisted that "form" was a crucial part of natural beings. His view is called "hylomorphism," a doctrine in which both matter (hulê) and form (morphê) play an essential role.

30 min

19: Aristotle's "Physics"—The Four Causes

The Physics presents Aristotle's doctrine of the four causes: the efficient, the material, the formal, and the final. Aristotle's final cause implies that natural beings, not just humans, have purposes. This is Aristotle's "teleological" conception of nature, and is essential to understanding his view of the world.

31 min
Why Plants Have Souls

20: Why Plants Have Souls

The Aristotelian idea that plants have souls sounds preposterous to modern ears. However, Aristotle's conception of soul (psychê) is so radically different from what we associate with the word that, in fact, his position can be philosophically defended.

30 min
Aristotle's Hierarchical Cosmos

21: Aristotle's Hierarchical Cosmos

Aristotle conceives of a hierarchically ordered cosmos in which things have their place. The heavens are, quite literally, above the earth. They are higher, better, more perfect than things that are below the moon (sublunar). On earth, animals are higher than plants, and human beings are the highest animal of all. Religious thinkers later used this argument to prove the existence of God, but Aristotle's God is different from that of the monotheistic tradition in important ways.

31 min
Aristotle's Teleological

22: Aristotle's Teleological "Politics"

Aristotle applied his teleological conception of the world not just to physical objects, but to politics as well. He argued that the human being is by nature a "political animal." According to Aristotle, human beings naturally form communities, which reach their zenith in the city, the only community that exists "for the sake of living well." Some of Aristotle's political views, such as on slavery or the purpose of marriage, are shocking and controversial to a contemporary audience.

31 min
Aristotle's Teleological

23: Aristotle's Teleological "Ethics"

Aristotle's Nicomachean Ethics also reflects a teleological view of nature. This is illustrated by his conception of "happiness." For him, happiness is a kind of work. Human beings, like all animals, have a "proper function," or telos, which defines their potentialities. Those who fully actualize that nature are happy. Those who do not are unhappy (regardless of how they feel about themselves).

30 min
The Philosophical Life

24: The Philosophical Life

What can we learn today from Aristotle's conception of the theoretical life - the life spent studying the world? While the technological achievements of modern science are extraordinary, they risk blinding us to what it means to be human. Aristotle, with his commonsensical view of experience, keeps us connected to human life as it is actually lived. This is a lesson desperately needed in the contemporary world.

32 min