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.