Masters of Greek Thought: Plato, Socrates, and Aristotle

Rated 5 out of 5 by from EXCELLENT COURSE - should have streaming It took me a couple of lectures to warm up to this course. But by the third + lectures, it is obvious that professor Bartlett knows the subject deeply, and I find his discussions very clear and nicely reasonable. I can now see how our western way of thinking traces back to Socrates. Not that it is the only way of thinking and seeing the world; obviously it is excellent. But after the time of these dialogues, many westerners made the mistake of believing that it is the best and ONLY way of philosophy. I don't think Socrates would be so dogmatic - I see similarities between what he says and what came out of India via Siddhartha.
Date published: 2021-01-01
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Professor Bartlett's use of the "Socratic Turn" to illuminate these three masters of classical thought is very instructive. By reminding us of scene, setting, participants and whether the dialogues are narrated or performed is helpful. He deepens the understanding without increasing confusion.
Date published: 2020-08-10
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Precise presentation I had some earlier history of these philosophers, and the course delved deeper in their backgrounds and the historical relation between them. Most of the initial lectures explained Socrates via Plato and others. The lectures regarding Plato continued to be heavier towards Socrates than Plato's own philosophy, or so it seemed. The last lectures provided me an expansive view of Aristotle and his defined philosophy. Professor Bartlett has a firm knowledge of these 3 men and weaves a detailed account of their beginnings to the origins of ideas that shaped their lives. Professor Bartlett was exceptionally well at translating some of the writings. This was needed at times when the referenced piece seemed vague.
Date published: 2019-11-10
Rated 4 out of 5 by from These Philosophers Never Get Old At least according to TTC, where one course after another focuses on Socrates, Plato, or Aristotle or on a specific work, or in this case, all three at once. In this course Professor Bartlett spends 36 lectures discussing Socrates, Plato and Aristotle and their thoughts. His approach is a straightforward intellectual one, focusing on the works themselves, leavened with only a few comments on the men and almost nothing about the times, locale and culture outside of what is required to understand the ideas being presented (for example an explanation of "polis" so that we can better understand the ideas of the various forms of government being analyzed). This approach (for me) results in a mostly dry, sometimes boring delivery that is, even so, easy to understand (but not some of the ideas that are quite complex) and only very occasionally relieved with some humor. While I appreciate that he is intent on keeping his lectures on point, it might be easier to focus on his intellectual points if it was not so necessary to concentrate on his talk all the time. There is a fair amount of overlap in this course with some other TC courses. In addition to some setup lectures on "The Dialogues" we are given three just on "The Republic". Professor Roochnik’s course is given 24 lectures to cover the same work. Aristotle’s "Ethics" gets a whopping six lectures or one could choose to take Father Koterski’s dedicated course on that work, which is twice as long. Or there is a Plato/Socrates option of 16, 45-minute lectures given by Dr. Sugrue that covers "The Dialogues" in some detail. All of these courses have their individual pluses and minuses. For me Professor Sugrue came across as too much of “fanboy” and lacked academic rigor, although he was easy to follow and the course on Aristotle’s Ethics was pretty dry. This course is a bit in-between those two, but my favorite would be The Republic course, probably because I found following the arguments a bit easier than the others. In the end they are all worth one’s time, so long as you have an interest in classical Greek thought. This course, even after having taken the others previously, still had some gems. For example it never would have occurred to me that Aristophanes’ Clouds could be used to help understand Socrates. I’d always thought that it was no more than a bit of a pejorative send-up for some (cheap?) laughs. Socrates as a slapstick bufoon I took this course on audio and don’t think I missed anything by not having video. The guidebook is pretty good, with an excellent timeline that I found a nice reminder as to how things fit with each other.
Date published: 2019-10-19
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Masters of Greek Thought Bartlett's lectures are superb, both in their content and in their delivery. Their range is impressive, and I believe they are presented in an especially informative order.
Date published: 2019-10-07
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Hard to follow The lecture content does not stand on its own. It would probably more valuable if you read the books or essays while taking the course.
Date published: 2019-03-07
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Or, Socrates and His Heirs: Excellent! I have taken a lot of TC courses that focused on and/or included Socrates, Plato, and Aristotle, so I approached this 2008 course more in the nature of a refresher. It did that for me, as well as a great deal more. Professor Bartlett has a perspective that is often neglected and not so well presented as it is here. The course contains excellent analyses of key works that are conveyed clearly and in easily understood language. While familiarity with Socrates, Plato, and Aristotle is helpful, I do not think it necessary to benefit from this course. For a good part of his early life Socrates focused on nature (the province of what we now term the “pre-Socratics”), only later turning to the moral issues and questions for which he is best known (e.g., What is justice? What is virtue?). In dealing with this momentous turn, Professor Bartlett not only fleshes out Socrates, but also spends time showing in what sense Plato and Aristotle are his “heirs”. Indeed, detailed treatment is given only to works of Plato (twelve of thirty-five dialogues) and Aristotle (‘Nicomachean Ethics’ and ‘Politics’) that best reveal Socrates’ influence. What I find quite interesting early on is the amount of time spent on Socrates and what those who knew him directly had to say about him. This includes a detailed discussion of Aristophanes’ play ‘The Clouds’, that presents Socrates (in his mid-40s) as a well-known figure of humor, focusing on Socrates’ then dominant pre-Socratic interests; Xenophon’s Socratic writings (which Professor Bartlett raises in my estimation for their contrast to Plato’s treatment); and Plato’s dialogues. It is Plato who dominates this course, as he should, with nineteen of the thirty-six lectures. Professor Bartlett’s treatment is not designed to provide an in-depth analysis of Plato’s dialogues, but one cannot help but pick up a good deal along the way about their themes and how to read the dialogues (for instance, appreciating Plato’s irony). A pleasant surprise for me is the inclusion of so much on Socrates’ “would-be student” Alcibiades, which provides us a wider and more nuanced view of Socrates as teacher. Professor Bartlett uses not only the well-known Alcibiades of the ‘Symposium’ and ‘Protagoras’, but also two other dialogues recognized only in recent time as Plato’s, ‘Alcibiades I’ and ‘Alcibiades II’. What we find is Socrates and Alcibiades in the end disappointed in each other over the importance of justice (which Alcibiades finds a hindrance to his ambition to rule the world). In dealing with Aristotle, Professor Bartlett only alludes to Aristotle’s interest in metaphysics and extensive works on the natural world. These do not speak directly to Socrates’ influence. Rather, Professor Bartlett’s extended lectures on ‘Nicomachean Ethics’ and ‘Politics’ show not only how “…Aristotle in his own way continues the innovations of Socrates and Plato”, but also how he “departed from his intellectual forefathers” (Course Guidebook, Page 2). This is quite fascinating. I am especially appreciative of Professor Bartlett’s pointing out overlaps between the ‘Ethics’ and the ‘Politics’, notably that both praise the “contemplative life” (clearly following Socrates in this; Page 112), and his observations about how Aristotle’s views differ from those of political science today. The ‘Politics’ displays the “…inherently normative or evaluative character of Aristotle’s political science…[he] never suggests that we should always aim to bring about the best regime simply but should soberly consider the given circumstances or limits to what can be accomplished” (Page 104). This is just one of many observations in this course of the continued interest in and even relevance of the masters of Greek thought. I suggest listening to the final lecture first for an overview of the course. The 138-page course guidebook is fine, though I found some of the lecture summaries quite spare. It also contains a timeline, glossary, biographical notes (which I found especially useful in expanding on the lecture summaries), and an annotated bibliography. This is a course I will return to in the future. Highly recommended!
Date published: 2019-01-10
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Foundation Lecture This is the basics of Greek philosophy/writings presented in an easy to follow and understand manner.
Date published: 2018-04-29
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Socrates and His Heirs
1: 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
2: 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
3: 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
4: 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
5: 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
6: 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
7: 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
8: 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
9: 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
Robert C. Bartlett

ALMA MATER

Boston College

INSTITUTION

Boston College

About Robert C. Bartlett

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.

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