Eric Chapdelaine
Student at Northeastern University Studying Computer Science.


PHIL2325 Ancient Philosophy and Political Thought

The Class

We will focus on the 5th (and 4th) Century BCE in Athens

Most of the writing in going to be Reflections (good faith)

Papers (3 x 750 words)

During this time, Greece had what we may consider to be the beginning of a democracy (and therefore politics). Before then, there were rulers.

What does politics look like when the individuals are part of the process?

Our traditions of self-rule date back to the time period that we will be focusing on.

One answer is “whatever makes people like you”. But there is a difference between what people think and the goodness of you.

We want to understand the thought process of Plato and Aristotle


Security is a big part of a community.

Also has a sense of purpose.

There is intimacy.

Tomorrow we will be looking at the 3 basic roots of ancient Greek politics.

Democracy, Rhetoric, and Philosophy

Homer, Hesiod, Solon

Homer: was referred to as the author of the Iliad and the Odyssey. He probably wasn’t a real person. Troy and the battle of Troy did exist, however.

Odyssey and the island of the cyclopes:

Hesiod: The common sense way that the Greeks govern. Was interested in how humanity falls short.

The human condition:

themis: something that holds together a body/community.

What role does the themis play here?

The Greeks believed that left to their our devices (that is, no order), civilization would turn into chaos.

A community is built with work. Love is not found, it is made. Familial ties naturally fall apart.

Solon: One of the 7th sages of the ancient world. Some time in the 6th century. Laid down the framework for what would be the democracy. How can people live together in peace?

The way to deal with this problem, we need good government.

You need some common ground between the classes. Have them part of the same whole.

Solon had a land-reform policy.

Solon canceled all of the debts so that the poor aren’t enslaved to the rich. But he didn’t redistribute land as to not start a war.

The government’s role is to maintain some common ground.

You could live in a city, but not be a citizen.

Personal Reflection

Not graded as a paper

500 words

Hit on one specific thing that you want to say about the idea of being a citizen.

The main focus of the Greeks was community.

Humans thrive in community

We are driven by curiosity and progress

The role of government is to help mitigate some of these problems

Democracy and Rhetoric

The Greek’s solution to this was democracy

How the Greek democracy works:

Athens is a shipping port so it attracts a lot of people. Young ambitious people would go there to make a name for themselves. Rule was not determined by families – that is, anyone who can make a nice speech can make it a long way.

Because of this, there was a rethinking of education (in middle or upper classes) in this time.


Should only specialized people work in policy? Should everyone have equal say?

Why do you teach morals if everything has it?

This kind of democracy is open and dangerous

A good speech binds your will as if you are being physically moved. A good speech can be in favor of anything.

Socrates was executed for not believing in the gods of the city and corrupting the youth

Justice and Happiness

Paper #1


Democracy was rare.

In Sparta, you had a leading class and the rest of the people were slaves

A citizen of Athens is one who engages in the government

A new notion of a citizen

There were traveling teachers to teach the skills necessary to be a citizen in this context. Teaching how to “play the game”.

Is being a good citizen defined as your ability to persuade.

Socrates thought that these Sophists aren’t concerned with how to be happy and how to be a good person. So he sought out how to teach this.

Philosophic Method

Socrates doesn’t claim to know anything. He didn’t want to give knowledge to people, he wanted to put the people in a position so that they can provide answers to their own questions.

Plato wrote in dialogue to teach people about how to go through this process.

Socrates’ method is via question and answer. He is looking for a definition of what started the dialogue.

What is the point of this? What lessons are supposed to be taken away?

This is the philosophical method. We previously looked at the Sophist method.

There is a way to ask questions that guide you. It forces you to reflect on your answer.

In the Republic, we will see a link between philosophy and medicine. “soul doctor”.

What does learning even look like?

We can never know everything about courage.

The same thing with fish as a concept.

The philosophical method is about teaching humility.

If you view your life in terms of goals that need to be completed, then this isn’t really love of life. That is discomfort with openness.

4 chief virtues of the Greek

The assembly would open with “does anyone have anything they would like to say?”

Laches isn’t wrong that courage has something to do with staying at your post in battle. Courage does have something to do with a sense of perseverance.

Paper #1

For Thursday:

Sophistic method and the philosophical method both have the same aim: education.

Examples of taxonomy: we understand a lot more about taxonomy then we once did. But we can always learn more. This is a process (philosophical) that is never complete, but we always learn more.

We are also concerned with self-knowledge and self-understanding. What does the philosophical method have to do with learning about ourselves?

The more you learn about cars (or something else), you’ll understand more about what you like and don’t like. Most likely, those things that you’ll learn can extend to other things as well.

You can learn about yourself by interacting with others.

In the philosophic method, it’s not about the answers/definitions to the questions, those are just a tool.

Philosophic method makes you feel vulnerable (opposite of the sophistic method).

Think about how this vulnerability connects to how to become a better citizen.

Anything that feels fear can be courageous.

Definitions are to get a nice neat way to describe a set of concrete examples.

Plato said that if you have a democracy, you won’t have a community – you will have a mess.

The Greek democracy is overthrown by the Aristocrat’s in 405. The democracy is reinstalled.

One cannot be a fully developed human being unless one is just.

The Republic

How justice relates to happiness. For the Greeks, justice is the primary virtue. Zeus gave us justice.

Justice for the Greeks means the general idea of being a good person.

Do you only need to appear just?

The Sophists say that you only need to appear a certain way.

Plato wants to convince us that being a just person is worth it in itself. That is, is it better to be just even if you are treated that way.


An old man says that the key to being happy is to be a good person.

Socrates asks him “what does one need to be good/just?”

But what makes these things just?

For the rest of the book, Socrates talks to younger people.

The first definition is that Justice is helping friends and harming enemies.

Socrates states that if we want Justice to be the primary virtue, we can’t have our definition to be subjective.

Thrasymachus states that a really strong unjust person is the happiest person. They don’t have to follow the rules and they won’t be punished.

Socrates states that it will catch up with you eventually.

Glaucon states that the only good thing about being just is the rewards (and lack of punishment).

Thought experiments:

Socrates must show that you won’t act in the way Glaucon thinks you would when given the invisible ring and that the perfectly just life is better.

A lot of people are successful, but not happy.

Paper #1

It’s not necessary to define both methods. You may want to bring up something in which they contrast.

You can bring in personal examples



You do not need to quote anything.

You do not need to cite paraphrasing examples from the text.

What if you could have the gods and society think of you well without being just?

Should we be just even if we aren’t rewarded?

In the Glauconian perspective, there is no trust/security

Humans can have things that they value unconditionally. We are above mere beasts. Therefore there is possible trust (and therefore progress)

When you learn something you are interested in, the why doesn’t really come up – you just do it.

When you learn something that you are supposed to, you don’t have much enjoyment out of it

Plato wants us to realize that:

Plato states that we must consider Justice in terms of the city

He paints a picture of what a basic community looks like

Why does Glaucon stop Socrates? What is problematic about the community that Socrates suggests?

Moral Education and Ideal Person

Plato believed that when one is born, they are filled with chaos and desires. Childhood is instilling order.

Plato also believes that once you are grown up, it’s hard to change how you are.

He thinks that we should be worried about the storytelling aspect of childhood


Personal Reflection #2

“At home”


Three things that push our actions

  1. Appetite is what you are inherently drawn towards or drawn away from.
  2. Spirit (with anger being the feeling that is most tied to spirit)
  3. Our rational mind

Proposed strategies of Plato:

Aristotle says that people will have these emotions anyway and so a healthy way to handle these emotions is to have them represented in texts.

Can people change?

It’s human nature to be at war with yourself

For Plato, there are different types of education (ways

The guardians are the regulators.

Aristotle puts it there there are two cities – not one. Socrates proposes the solution of telling the people a myth that states that the gods made the rulers and the ruled differently. You also want the citizens to think that they don’t want the jobs of the guardians.

People are able to do what they want to do within reason.

Who guards the guardians?

Since the guardians are living different lives than the citizens, can they rule the other citizens fairly and correctly?

Do we have any myths like the myth of the metal?

Plato worries that people might chose what it easy for them/best financial opportunities, not what they are best at.

Notice that an important component in this conversation is that there is a way for everyone to fit into. There is a specific place by which you are most suited. Is this problematic?

Book IV:

Glaucon states that guardians can’t be happy and Socrates states that he is looking for happy cities and not happy people.

“You wouldn’t paint the entire statue purple”

You don’t want everyone to do everything

Socrates thinks that the Greek democracy is too populated and has too much overlap

Three types of people.

What about the other virtues?

Where is wisdom?

Where is courage?

Where is temperance/justice?

The three parts of the soul relate to the three types of people in this city.

Plato worries most that not everyone has a place in society

Democracy was the solution to this.

Myths of the Greek democracy

Plato sees this and wants people to want to be just for its own right

Plato argues that your health depends on you being a just person.

Plato thinks that when our mind is aligned with itself (the 3 parts), we are happy. Otherwise, we are sad.

There need to be people who make decisions because the people can’t for themselves.

Not everyone can do every job. But people aren’t born with a destiny.

Ancient India used a variation of the myth of the metals in its cast system.

Conclusion on the Republic

Being just is inherently good. You need to be good to be happy

The various parts of the individual and the community work in harmony when everyone is just.

Plato thinks that this harmony takes work so they naturally fall apart. Unicity is produced, not found.

Loving Goodness

Paper #2

Workshop on Thursday

Everyone comes from different professions

For Plato, love is not just a feeling, it is an activity.

You also can’t convince someone of love, when they don’t love.

Plato thinks that love makes us want to be better.

There are two ways to learn something:

  1. Develop a motive to learn it
  2. Get excited about it

Unity as the structure and unity as a feeling.

Everyone’s path to unity is different. The greatest that can be done is to get people excited about being unified.

Love is about the relation, not the feeling.

Self-love is secondary for Plato

True love, argued the Athenian, were between men and boys. Greece was a society built on mentorship.

Plato states that love is more of a partnership – they people are on the same level.


Love is a great motivator.


Eryximachus (a doctor)


There is something right about this to an extent. We can’t fall in love with just anyone.

Plato finds issue with the possession attitude towards love

Paper #2

When we love other people, what are we loving?

When we love other people, we love what is good and beautiful about them(?)



What is universal love?

During the infatuation stage of a relationship, one looks past the shortcomings and believes that the individual is fully good and beautiful.

If we move beyond the loving of individuals and embrace a universal love (a love of the good and beautiful), then our relationships would become less personal. That is, if a friend stops displaying their beautiful qualities temporarily, we would stop seeing them as beautiful and thus stop loving them. This view doesn’t take loyalty into consideration

A parent loving a child. The child can be very annoying, but the parent still loves them. Why?

Should you throw the ladder away?

“I also like how these individuals express these good and beautiful things” Plato says that this doesn’t matter – you only like the good and beautiful The person is a vessel for the good and the beautiful

If you are focused on the individuals, you can forget about others. You also can fail to recognize the good and beautiful

Is it possible to do both at the same time?

This relates to the first question

If I climb up the ladder, can I go back?

Is throwing out the ladder a good thing?



When we love another person, we want to be better (not just for them, but just to be better)

In this headspace, you aren’t thinking in the Glacion way

You aren’t weighing what’s best

You never think “is it worth it to partake in beautiful things”?

The ugliness is only temporary

The Science of Human Nature

Context for Aristotle

Plato believes in the idea of the Greek community – we thrive with one another. This ideal state isn’t something that can be achieved.

Socrates doesn’t tell anyone how to do philosophy. That’s where Aristotle comes in.

Aristotle was not a citizen of Athens.

Aristotle enrolled in Plato’s academy for about 20 years.

He questions if the statement that we thrive in groups is false.

Nicomachean Ethics - Aristotle

We need to figure out what the human good is

What sets humans apart is we are able to reason

A dog won’t change that much in different circumstances.

Happiness is the human good

You can’t try to be happy. Instead, you should focus on what’s good for you and then you’ll become happy.

He thinks that you cannot be happy if you are doing menial tasks for physical labor. Therefore, he thinks that there should be a class of people that do these tasks so the rest of the people can enjoy leisure.

The political art

To be in a state of happiness, you must not lack anything

There are different ideas of happiness:

Humans path to happiness involve reason (we are more than just animals).

We should aspire to be better.

Aristotle does think that there are qualities that help you better navigate yourself

How important is community in compared to excellence?

God is happy because he is in control over everything.

Why do you not become more courageous if you read about people being courageous? But you can learn about insects by reading about them?

In all qualities, the ideal amount is between the extremes. Too much of anything is bad.

Paper #3

Pick a virtue and relate it to a modern day example

Happiness, Aristotle argues, is being content with oneself – not desiring anything.

He says that we aren’t just interested in happiness, we are interested in human happiness.

We are different because we can reason and communicate.

Everyone has actions and thoughts that they don’t feel at home with

We cannot control our happiness entirely, it is partly luck.

The human being is limited. If you try to take on too much, you’ll fail at everything.

In order to be virtuous, we must have leisure time. That is, time that you’re not doing necessary tasks (bringing car to mechanic, eating, etc.).

He thinks those with the most leisure (the very wealthy) struggle because they can’t manage it well.

Paper #3

Aristotle’s virtues. Pick one and understand why it’s important. Put it in a contemporary context.

Two parts:

A Portrait of Virtue

Why do we need to be virtuous to be happy?

Consider fear

We know something is a virtue with it becomes part of us.

Aristotle wants to give an example of a virtuous person to give you the motivation to be virtuous.

Virtue for Aristotle is excellence


The end of leisure (that’s not rest) is excellence.

Each virtue is a response to something that every human being experiences.

What is temperance?

Fear is a constant human experience so we need to learn how to manage it in a way that is helpful. Same thing with temperance (our animal desires).

People with more attachments to their money are more rude than those who are wasteful with their money.

Virtue on mildness and anger:

It’s not courageous if you already know how things are going to turn out

Magnificence is the monetary version of excellence

What’s wrong with the people pleaser

Being a friend to oneself is essential to be virtuous

Magnanimity: Having good self-worth when you deserve it

By Aristotle’s standards, Socrates would not be considered great. Socrates was short, annoying, and not attractive. But could he still be great and virtuous?


Three different types of friendships

Do we have more access to pleasures in today’s society?

Aristotle views generosity as goodness with people that you know

Aristotle would say that we attribute malice to people too often.

Why are your closest friendships not necessarily virtue friendships?

Many people can go through their entire lives without having virtue friends

Good people are the only people that can be virtue friends

Friendship is very important

It’s possible to exist without a virtue friendship

Aristotle says that the virtuous person must be a friend to themselves

What does he mean by that?

Aristotle believes that learning and thinking is happiness.

Achieving the Community

What makes a community instead of just people living near each other?

The first problem that a community has is who is ruling and who is a citizen (those you partake in rule)?

Should laborers be citizens?

Next problem is inequality

You can know a lot about corn production, but know little about farmers. In the same way, architects aren’t the best house builders.

If officials are never at their home (and are always in DC), then how do they know about living?

Some people are better equipped to be rulers (those with the necessary leisure to do so).

The wealthy think they are better whereas the poor think that the wealthy are greedy.

Even the smartest people in the world in a room won’t know how people live.

Aristotle says that a Monarchy doesn’t work (there is no community)

Aristotle says that the middle class should have power in ruling.

The middle class people always want to be the upper class (selfish)

This directly contradicts Plato’s view of what an ideal society looks like

Polity - The perfect (attainable) society as proposed by Aristotle

Two options:

Oligarchy and democracy scale

Aristotle thinks that the ideal system falls in the middle of these two.

Optimize community and happiness (the goal)

The ruling element would be the middle class

Today, we are still are trying to focus on the middle class.

The community exists to make people happy.

Aristotle thinks that there is nothing to be done about this (it will always be the case).

Some people were just born to do the work (and therefore they should).

Is this still the case today?

Which problems are we creating ourselves?

In Greece at the time, there several small communities who had an alliance.

For the Greeks, the community is political

In Greece, one would only be a part of a small number of communities

The way that the Greeks thought about identity and community resulted in a lot of people being excluded.

An empire grows too much to realize what it is

The model of the ideal government system proposed by Aristotle is overly complicated

Even if the way that we do politics is differently, we still talk about politics in the same way.