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Masters of Greek Thought: Plato, Socrates, and Aristotle

Challenge and satisfy your intellectual curiosity with an in-depth exploration of the dramatic turn in philosophical direction that began with these three philosophers.
Masters of Greek Thought: Plato, Socrates, and Aristotle is rated 3.9 out of 5 by 67.
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Rated 4 out of 5 by from A pleasant guide to fundamental questions I must confess that I found the way these great philosophers of ancient Greek "presented" their thoughts often as puzzling, complex, and hard to navigate as I did when I first encountered them in my college years over 50 years ago. Although I did not pursue a degree in philosophy, I did pursue college and graduate degrees in history and political science, two disciplines in which one inevitably confronts the same questions raised by these three giants but in different ways. Moreover, my life was almost entirely in public service, including elective office, and there, too, I came to face both the "questions" raised by them and the "consequences" of actions taken (or not taken) that inevitably flow from the answers one gives to them (or, as seems to be increasingly the case today, avoids them). Does it not seem that the fundamental questions to which they returned time and again -- "who" exactly are we? How do we "know" what we claim to know? What is truth? What is justice? -- are seldom raised anymore in either civil or civic matters? And might not that be part of why our society seems so deeply to be floundering, tossed here and fro by raging words over events -- real and imagined -- rather than over foundational principles and primary goals? A significant sign of any "great course" is the degree to which I find myself turning things over raised in a lecture hours -- even days -- after the lecture had ended. This was certainly the case here -- often. Sometimes it was mulling over the essence of the issue, but other times, I confess, it was over the "way" in which one of these men raised, framed, or answered the questions inherent in the issue. Perhaps it is because I am not a philosopher, or perhaps it is because I am too "modern" a person in my way of thinking, but I often found myself wishing that the questions these three men were wrestling with were presented in a much more straightforward manner; honestly, following the often circuitous "logic" they employed rendered some issues literally "Greek to me." In closing, I have to note both the pleasantness of the instructor -- obviously a learned and likable fellow -- and the way in which he introduced each lecture by outlining what he hoped to achieve in that lecture and then, at its end, summarizing principal conclusions, even sometimes questions raised by not really answered.
Date published: 2024-04-09
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Excellent, thorough, and stimulating course Professor Bartlett's course is well organized, packed with thought-provoking content taught by a competent teacher. The organization of the course is not unusual: starting first with Socrates, Bartlett continues through to Plato and finally to Aristotle. He also includes the welcome addition of several works concerning Socrates by Aristophanes and Xenophon, which broadens the scope of the course nicely. With each philosopher, Bartlett focuses well on the defining beliefs and works of each, balancing a 30,000-foot view with a detailed analysis of several dialogues. Bartlett himself is evidently very knowledgeable, although a bit low on energy. Overall, a fine course for beginners, students, and amateurs alike. I have in fact already recommended it to others.
Date published: 2023-02-18
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Good but not great This is the first time I rate a course with 4 stars rather than 5 and I hesitated a bit in doing so. The class is worth taken if you are, like I am, a novice on these 3 masters of Greek philosophy. However, even after taken the class I am left with an unsatisfied feeling that we only touched the masters in a rather superficial way. The discussion of Plato is only in regards to what he writes about Socrates. But there is no discussion at all on any other work of Plato that may give further insights into his work. Aristotle, on the other hand, is discussed in more detail. My other comment is that a bias towards political moral philosophy is evident specially in discussing Aristotle. In any case, I think that the class was worth my time.
Date published: 2023-01-06
Rated 3 out of 5 by from I Went through the Motions This long (36 lectures) course covers the same ground as most courses about Socrates, Plato, and Aristotle. (I don’t know why the title lists them out of order.) This course does devote two lectures to The Clouds by Aristophanes and two more lectures on Xenophon, but little else is new here. Dr. Bartlett devotes 19 lectures to Plato, mostly addressing selected dialogs. He devotes 11 lectures to Aristotle. I had difficulty getting into these lectures. Perhaps that is my fault. Perhaps I would have found them more challenging and meaningful if I had read each dialog just prior to listening to the lecture. As it was, the lectures seemed ethereal, difficult for me to relate to. Dr. Bartlett is uninspiring, an average lecturer by The Great Courses (TGC) standards. He is easy enough to understand but he did not show excitement nor did he generate any enthusiasm for me. The course guide is in outline form averaging about 3 pages per lecture. There are no graphics. There is a timeline a short glossary (I would have expected more entries for a long course on philosophy), biographical notes, and an extensive bibliography I used the video version. The graphics did not add a lot of value. I found that audio-only, such as when commuting or exercising, was good enough. The course was published in 2008.
Date published: 2023-01-05
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Gave me a clue. I can't remember the first time I heard the names of Socrates, Plato or Aristotle, but I never really knew what they stood for other than they were "philosophers". This course doesn't actually provide as much information as reading all their works would provide, but it does provide an excellent overview, gives me an idea of what they were all about. It also provides one with an idea of what they would want to read if they decided to pursue the subject further.
Date published: 2022-10-20
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Well done! The course provides an excellent source of learning.
Date published: 2022-07-02
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Examined Lives Examined Once Again I recommend Dr. Robert C. Bartlett’s precisely scripted lectures for students who are newcomers to the study of Socrates, Plato, and Aristotle; or those who might be considering classics or philosophy as a university major; or those who (like myself) welcome a refresher course on material first studied quite long ago. The professor is scholarly, alert, and willing to go beyond merely teaching the historical material to share his own interpretive ideas. Note also that personal study of readings he suggests in the course guidebook appears to be expected and important. I appreciate that Dr. Bartlett has helped me realize how innovative were the efforts of the ancient Greek philosophers, in the context of their own time and place, to “understand the world by reason,” regardless of whether or not we of the present might perceive some flaws in their rhetoric and logic. I do feel, though, that Dr. Bartlett includes more repetition lecture-to-lecture than is necessary with a recorded course, easy enough for the viewer or listener to “rewind.”
Date published: 2022-06-23
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Lecturer is outstanding interpreter of classics I wish I had this professor when I was an undergraduate college student. He is extremely knowledgeable and articulate teacher in these classics of philosophy. I read Plato on my own many years ago, but did not get nearly as much from the Dialogues as I did from viewing these lectures.
Date published: 2022-04-12
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The arguments of the Greek thinkers Plato, Socrates, and Aristotle represent daring leaps into some of the most profound and intellectually exciting concepts in philosophy. Challenge and satisfy your intellectual curiosity with Masters of Greek Thought: Plato, Socrates, and Aristotle, an in-depth exploration of the dramatic turn in philosophical direction that began with these three philosophers. Award-winning Professor Robert C. Bartlett guides you through this astonishing era in the history of human thought-one that permanently altered our approach to the most important questions humanity can pose.


Robert C. Bartlett


Boston College

Robert C. Bartlett is the first Behrakis Professor of Hellenic Political Studies at Boston College. His principal area of research is classical political philosophy, with particular attention to the thinkers of ancient Hellas, including Thucydides, Plato, Xenophon, and Aristotle. He has published articles in the American Political Science Review, American Journal of Politics, Journal of Politics, Review of Politics, and other leading scholarly journals. He is the author or editor of eight books, including The Idea of Enlightenment, Plato's Protagoras and Meno, and Xenophon's The Shorter Socratic Writings. He is also the co-translator of Aristotle's Nicomachean Ethics (University of Chicago Press, 2011), the author of Sophistry and Political Philosophy: Protagoras' Challenge to Socrates (Chicago, 2012), and a new edition of Aristotle's Art of Rhetoric (Chicago, 2019).

Before coming to Boston College, Robert Bartlett served as the Arthur M. Blank/National Endowment for the Humanities Distinguished Teaching Professor at Emory University.

By This Professor

Socrates and His Heirs

01: Socrates and His Heirs

You explore the key innovations and insights of Socrates, his student Plato, and Plato's student Aristotle. For all their originality, Plato and Aristotle were deeply indebted to Socrates, who was responsible for a fundamentally new way of philosophizing.

31 min
The Socratic Revolution

02: The Socratic Revolution

Some key concepts necessary to understanding Socrates are explained, including early ideas of philosophy—especially in its relation to nature—and Socrates's groundbreaking shift to moral-political questions. This lecture then turns to ancient Greek comedy and Aristophanes's Clouds.

30 min
Aristophanes's Comic Critique of Socrates

03: Aristophanes's Comic Critique of Socrates

Aristophanes's comedic but wise treatment of Socrates in Clouds reveals two fundamental criticisms: (1) Socrates's failure to recognize the dangers to family and the political community that his study of nature represents has made him imprudent, and (2) his claims to know more than he does.

30 min
Xenophon's Recollections of Socrates

04: Xenophon's Recollections of Socrates

Since Socrates didn't write down his philosophy, we know him only through the work of others. Of the four writings Xenophon devoted to Socrates, Memorabilia (or Recollections) attempts to establish Socrates's idea of justice—obedience to the law and helpfulness to others.

30 min
Xenophon and Socratic Philosophy

05: Xenophon and Socratic Philosophy

The best evidence of the difficulties Socrates faced in turning his philosophy away from nature and toward moral and political concerns comes from Oeconomicus, Xenophon's account of the fateful day when Socrates began his intensive examination of moral opinions, especially regarding beliefs about the gods.

31 min
Plato’s Socrates and the Platonic Dialogue

06: Plato’s Socrates and the Platonic Dialogue

The most important source of our knowledge of Socrates is his student Plato, who featured his teacher in almost all of his 35 extant dialogues. The lecture discusses how to read this unique literary form and considers some first impressions of Plato's Socrates, particularly his characteristic irony.

30 min
Socrates as Teacher - Alcibiades

07: Socrates as Teacher - Alcibiades

The study of Plato and his presentation of Socrates begins with Socrates as teacher, seen here in four dialogues devoted to Socrates's mutually disappointing relationship with the historical figure Alcibiades. This lecture focuses on Alcibiades I and on Alcibiades's famous speech about Socrates, recorded in Plato's Symposium.

30 min
Socrates and Justice - Republic, Part 1

08: Socrates and Justice - Republic, Part 1

Plato asks the all-important question, "What is justice?" He shows that the search for an answer is not a mere exercise in word play but requires a response to those who think that justice, however defined, is bad for the just themselves.

29 min
The Case against Justice - Republic, Part 2

09: The Case against Justice - Republic, Part 2

This lecture sets forth the full challenge faced by Socrates in defending justice. It is a challenge that requires him to respond to three different arguments against justice—including two presented in an effort to elicit Socrates's strongest case for justice.

30 min
Building the Best City - Republic, Part 3

10: Building the Best City - Republic, Part 3

Socrates proposes to discover what justice is and whether it is good by building the best city "in speech," believing that locating political justice will then make it easier to find individual justice. But can the two be made into a whole?

31 min
Philosophers as Kings

11: Philosophers as Kings

This lecture focuses on the chief subjects of books 5–7 of Republic, including the call for "philosopher-kings"; the doctrine of the Ideas; and the famous metaphor of the Cave. All are part of Socrates's ultimate aim in Plato's Republic: a defense of philosophy.

30 min
Socrates as Teacher of Justice

12: Socrates as Teacher of Justice

From the beginning of Republic, the rhetorician Thrasymachus praised injustice over justice, the latter fit only for the foolish and weak. Socrates then considers injustice and prepares the way for his own comparison of the two—his final answer to Thrasymachus.

31 min
Socrates versus the Sophists

13: Socrates versus the Sophists

Plato often informs us about Socrates by contrasting him with his competitors, the sophists and the rhetoricians. This lecture begins the discussion on the Platonic dialogue named after the most famous sophist of antiquity, Protagoras, in which he and Socrates wage a subtle and intense verbal duel.

31 min
Protagoras Undone

14: Protagoras Undone

This lecture concludes the discussion of Protagoras with Socrates's complex response to Protagoras's justly famous argument, revealing that the sophist's "sophisticated" contempt for justice and noble self-sacrifice cannot be squared with his genuine admiration of courage and the courageous, making him a more moral man than he realizes.

29 min
Socrates versus the Rhetoricians

15: Socrates versus the Rhetoricians

From Socrates's encounter with the day's most famous sophist, you turn to the first of his three conversations with its most famous rhetorician, Gorgias. The two define rhetoric—persuasion without actual teaching—before Gorgias offers a demonstration and Socrates a response.

30 min
Rhetoric and Tyranny

16: Rhetoric and Tyranny

With the arrival of the brash Polus and his arguments about using rhetoric to gain power, Plato turns Gorgias toward the question of the goodness of justice. Socrates demonstrates that Polus retains a lingering respect for justice and has not thought through his assertions.

30 min
Callicles and the Problem of Justice

17: Callicles and the Problem of Justice

You look at the final part of Gorgias and Socrates's conversation with Callicles, who sees justice in the strong dominating the weak and harshly criticizes both philosophy and Socrates. The dialogue concludes with Socrates's criticism of the hedonism that guides Callicles's life.

31 min
What Is Virtue? Meno, Part 1

18: What Is Virtue? Meno, Part 1

You take up this question in Meno, named after a student of Gorgias who came to Socrates to learn how virtue is acquired. This lecture begins the dialogue's longest part, where Meno, at Socrates's insistence, must first learn what virtue is.

29 min
Can Virtue Be Taught? Meno, Part 2

19: Can Virtue Be Taught? Meno, Part 2

A discussion of the "recollection doctrine"—the idea that learning is innate knowledge recalled—prompts Meno not to give up his quest for a definition of virtue, which Plato finally allows is teachable ... perhaps.

30 min
The Trial of Socrates I - Euthyphro

20: The Trial of Socrates I - Euthyphro

This lecture opens a treatment of the four-dialogue sequence devoted to Socrates's trial, conviction, and execution. It focuses on Euthyphro's main arguments concerning piety and how they reveal the general approach Socrates took to the challenge that piety poses to the philosophic life.

29 min
The Trial of Socrates II - Apology, Part 1

21: The Trial of Socrates II - Apology, Part 1

Plato's Apology of Socrates is probably the most widely read document in Western philosophy. In addition to learning of Socrates's attempts to refute the charges against him, you also consider his revealing account of what first prompted him to become the philosopher notorious for cross-examining others.

30 min
The Trial of Socrates III - Apology, Part 2

22: The Trial of Socrates III - Apology, Part 2

You look at Socrates's claim that he is just, not only in that he broke no law, but in the higher sense of dedication to others. The lecture concludes by examining Socrates's remarks after his conviction and sentencing and reviewing the long-term success of Plato's defense of him.

31 min
The Trial of Socrates IV - Crito

23: The Trial of Socrates IV - Crito

Crito takes place in Socrates's jail cell, where his old friend or companion, Crito, argues for his escape. You look at Crito's arguments and Socrates's responses and conclude with suggestions on why Socrates ultimately chooses to submit to execution.

31 min
The Socratic Revolution Revisited - Phaedo

24: The Socratic Revolution Revisited - Phaedo

This lecture discusses Socrates's arguments for the immortality of the soul and his vital autobiographical remarks to show why Socrates turned to so-called Socratic philosophizing. Both discussions help us better grasp the nature of the change that Socrates brought about.

30 min
Aristotle and the Socratic Legacy

25: Aristotle and the Socratic Legacy

You delve into the life and thought of Plato's greatest student, exploring the relationship between Socrates, Plato, and Aristotle; Aristotle's role as guide to some of today's most fundamental human questions; and the demands posed by his challenging style of writing.

32 min
The Problem of Happiness - Ethics 1

26: The Problem of Happiness - Ethics 1

The study of Aristotle's political philosophy begins with his penetrating account of our longing for happiness, the final end of our strivings. It's an account that leaves much to ponder, particularly the sway that chance or fortune holds over our lives.

30 min
Introduction to Moral Virtue - Ethics 2

27: Introduction to Moral Virtue - Ethics 2

In introducing virtue in general, this lecture explores its two subspecies, moral and intellectual virtue—a distinction introduced by Aristotle. It then turns to the most famous part of Aristotle's ethical teaching, that of each virtue being understood as a mean between extremes.

32 min
The Principal Moral Virtues - Ethics 3 - 5

28: The Principal Moral Virtues - Ethics 3 - 5

Aristotle identifies eleven moral virtues, each associated with its corresponding vices. The focus here is on three of those virtues—courage, magnanimity, and justice—with the latter two representing the peak of moral virtue.

31 min
Prudence, Continence, Pleasure - Ethics 6 - 7

29: Prudence, Continence, Pleasure - Ethics 6 - 7

This lecture is devoted to the intellectual virtue of prudence, or practical judgment; the somewhat strange capacity called "continence," or "self-control"; and, finally, a discussion of pleasure, the case for which Aristotle considers at length as the proper goal of human life.

29 min
Friendship - Ethics 8 - 9

30: Friendship - Ethics 8 - 9

Aristotle devotes two books of Ethics to friendship. The investigation focuses on three issues: What are the various kinds of friendship, and which is best? Why does Aristotle's inquiry take a decidedly political turn? And how does Aristotle resolve the tensions between friendship's selfish and selfless aspects?

30 min
Philosophy and the Good Life - Ethics 10

31: Philosophy and the Good Life - Ethics 10

The final book of Aristotle's study of character and the good life continues his analysis of pleasure—a pleasant life—as the greatest good, and of the role intellectual or contemplative virtue plays in making such a life.

31 min
The Political Animal - Politics 1 - 2

32: The Political Animal - Politics 1 - 2

You look at Aristotle's case for the importance of examining political life, trace his famous but complex argument that humans are by nature "political animals," and consider his critique of various regimes, actual and imagined, that have claimed to be best—including that of Plato's Republic.

32 min
Justice and the Common Good - Politics 3

33: Justice and the Common Good - Politics 3

This lecture discusses Aristotle's inquiry into the citizen and citizenship; his analysis of a regime's relation to justice and the common good; and Aristotle's account of kingship, to show how such inquiry, analysis, and account of kingship form a sustained argument about the limits of justice.

31 min
Aristotle's Political Science - Politics 4 - 6

34: Aristotle's Political Science - Politics 4 - 6

In what are sometimes called the "practical" books of Politics, Aristotle sets aside his standards for ideal regimes to analyze the actual regimes and statesmen most likely to be encountered and offers some advice even tyrannies might heed.

30 min
The Best Regime - Politics 7 - 8

35: The Best Regime - Politics 7 - 8

The final books of Aristotle's Politics are devoted to the best regime, the regime "in accord with what one would pray for." You look at its goals, makeup, and nature, as well as education's crucial role in making such a regime a reality.

31 min
Concluding Reflections

36: Concluding Reflections

This lecture reviews the course and the innovations in Western philosophy that began with Socrates and continued with Plato and Aristotle. You see how the three together constitute one of the highest peaks of Western thought, one that richly repays the efforts made to ascend it.

32 min