Phil 210 Term Paper Topics Lesher



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PHIL 210 Term Paper Topics Lesher
INSTRUCTIONS: At some point this semester (see the course syllabus for the exact date) you will need to produce a paper, roughly 10 pages in length, on some topic relating to ancient Greek philosophy. Below you will find a dozen possible topics and suggested readings. I offer these to you as suggestions only; I do not require that you choose any of them, or that you make use of any of the readings suggested. But if one of these topics does interest you, you should proceed at once to begin work on it, using either the readings suggested or any other materials you may find helpful (including on-line resources). Any and all use of the words and ideas of others must be fully acknowledged in your paper.
If none of these topics interests you, you will need to come up with a topic of your own choosing and discuss it with me before proceeding to work on it.
I would be happy to meet with you as you begin work on your paper (on any topic) to help you clarify your understanding of your task and identify additional research materials. Just email me (at jlesher@email.unc,edu) so we can find a time to talk.

Paper Topics on the Presocratics



1. THE POETICS OF EARLY GREEK PHILOSOPHY. Some Greek philosophers elected to express and present their philosophical and scientific teachings in verse. How might it have mattered that these philosophers were also poets?

Some relevant readings:

G. Most, ‘The poetics of early Greek philosophy’ in A.A. Long, ed., The Cambridge Companion to Early Greek Philosophy (Cambridge, 1999), 332-62.

M.R. Wright, ‘Philosopher Poets: Parmenides and Empedocles’ in C. Atherton, ed., Form and Content in Didactic Poetry (Bari, 1998), 1-21.

Murray, Penelope, ‘Poetic Inspiration in Early Greece’, Journal of Hellenic Studies, Vol. 101 (1981), 87-100.

C. J. Classen, ‘Xenophanes and the Tradition of Epic Poetry’ in Ionian Philosophy, ed. Bourdouris (Athens, 1989).

J. H. Lesher, ‘Archaic Knowledge’ in William Wians, ed. Logos and Mythos (SUNY Press, 2007).

M. Detienne, The Masters of Truth in Archaic Greece (New York, 1996) trans. Janet Lloyd from Les Maîtres de vérité dans la grèce archaïque (Paris, 1965).


2. PARMENIDES’ PROEM. How has the proemium presented in Parmenides’ fragment 1 been variously interpreted, and how do you think it is best understood? (Some knowledge of ancient Greek will be required to work on this topic.)

Some relevant readings:

C.M. Bowra, ‘The Proem of Parmenides,’ Classical Philology, Vol. 32 (1937), 97-112.

A. H. Coxon, The Fragments of Parmenides (Assen/Maastricht, 1986)

A. P. D. Mourelatos, The Route of Parmenides (Yale, 1970).

H. Fränkel, ‘Studies in Parmenides’ in R. E. Allen and D. Furley, eds. Studies in Presocratic Philosophy (Humanities Press, 1975), 1-47.

E. F. Dolin, Jr. “Parmenides and Hesiod.” Harvard Studies in Classical Philology 66 (1962), 93-98.

W. K. C. Guthrie, A History of Greek Philosophy Vol. II. (Cambridge U.P. Press, 1965).

Eric Havelock, “Parmenides and Odysseus.” Harvard Studies in Classical Philology 63 (1958), 133-143.

M. E. Pellikaan-Engel, Hesiod and Parmenides: A New View on Their Cosmologies and on Parmenides’ Proem. Amsterdam: Adolf M. Hakkert Press, 1974.


3. HERACLITEAN ETHICS? Heraclitus appears to have developed a comprehensive view of the cosmos and everything in it. But what are we to make of the few surviving Heraclitean remarks concerning the soul and the nature of human excellence? Is there, in other words, an identifiable Heraclitean ethical theory?

Some relevant readings:

Charles Kahn, The Art and Thought of Heraclitus (Cambridge U. P., 1979)

T. M. Robinson, Heraclitus: Fragments (Toronto U. P., 1987).

W. K. C. Guthrie, A History of Greek Philosophy, Vol,. 1 (Cambridge U. P., 1962)

G. S. Kirk, ‘Heraclitus and death in battle,’ American Journal of Philology 1949: 384-393.

G. S. Kirk, ‘Men and opposites in Heraclitus,’ Museum Helveticum, Vol. 14 (1957), 155-163.

B. Helm, ‘Social roots in the Heraclitean metaphysics,’ Journal of the History of Ideas, Vol. 25 (1964), 565-571

Kessidis T. - The socio-political views of Heraclitus of Ephesus’ Philosophia, Vols. 13-14 (1983-1984), 92-108.

R. Bolton, ‘Nature and human good in Heraclitus’, Ionian philosophy, ed. Boudouris (Athens, 1989), 49-57.


4. XENOPHANES’ ‘MONOTHEISM’. Was Xenophanes a monotheist? What considerations might point in that direction? What considerations might count against identifying Xenophanes as a monotheist? How do you think we should understand Xenophanes’ conception of the divine?

Some relevant readings:

Van Baarern. T. P. 2006. “Monotheism” in The Encyclopedia Britannica Online (http://www.search.eb.com/eb/article-38207).

J. H. Lesher, Xenophanes of Colophon: Fragments (Toronto, 1992).

J. H. Lesher, ‘Xenophanes Philosophy of Religion’ in the Encyclopedia of the Philosophy of Religion (2008).

Stokes, M. 1971. One and Many in Presocratic Philosophy. Center for Hellenic Studies. Washington, D. C./University Press of America. Lanham, Maryland.

W. Jaeger, The Theology of the Early Greek Philosophers (Oxford, 1947).
5. XENOPHANES AND GREEK POPULAR RELIGION. What was the reasoning behind Xenophanes’ critique of anthropomorphism in religion? What was his objective—ridicule, refutation, or understanding? How does Xenophanes’ critique compare with the accounts of religion launched in the modern period by thinkers such as Feuerbach and Freud?

Some relevant readings:

J. H. Lesher, Xenophanes of Colophon: Fragments (Toronto, 1992).

W. Jaeger, The Theology of the Early Greek Philosophers (Oxford, 1947).

J. H. Lesher, 'Genetic Explanations of Religious Belief,' Philosophical Studies, Vol. 25 (l975), 3l7-328.

E. Schoen, ‘Anthropomorphic Concepts of God.’ Religious Studies Vol. 26 (1990), 123-139.

L. Feuerbach, The Essence of Christianity

Sigmund Freud, The Future of an Illusion



Some Paper Topics on Socrates



6. THE SOCRATIC QUESTION. What are our contemporary sources of information concerning the life, character, and teachings of the historical person Socrates? How might the differing personal perspectives and goals of each of the authors of these accounts have influenced, perhaps even distorted, the portrait of Socrates they created? If each of these accounts contains some possibility of bias, what if anything can be said with any confidence about the teachings of the historical Socrates?

Some relevant readings:

Aristophanes, Clouds

Xenophon, Memorabilia, Symposium

Plato, Apology, Crito, Phaedo

Lacey A. R. - 'Our knowledge of Socrates' in The philosophy of Socrates. A collection of critical essays / ed. by Vlastos G. ,Garden City, N.Y. : Doubleday Anchor, 1969 1971.,pp. 22-49.

Nussbaum M. - Aristophanes and Socrates on learning practical wisdom. Yale Classical Studies, Vol. 26 (1980) 43-97.
7. THE APOLOGY-CRITO INCONSISTENCY. How do Plato's Crito and Apology appear to present sharply contrasting answers to the question: ‘Is it ever morally permissible for a citizen to disobey civic authority?’ What attempts have been made to reconcile the views presented in these two dialogues? What is your own view of how the two portraits might be reconciled?

Some relevant readings:

Gregory Vlastos, ‘Socrates on Obedience,’ The Yale Review (1974), pp. 530-31.)

A. D. Woozley, “Socrates on Disobeying the Law” in G. Vlastos, ed., The Philosophy of Socrates (1971, 1980).

George Grote, Plato and the Other Companions of Sokrates, Volume I, pp. 301-02.

Roslyn Weiss, Socrates Dissatisfied: An Analysis of Plato’s Crito (New York, 1998)

James Kostman, ‘Socrares’ Self-betrayal and the Contradiction between the Apology and Crito,’ in New Essays on Socrates, ed. E. Kelly (Univ. Press of America,), 107-130. I

Charles A. Hobbs, ‘The Significance of the Inconsistency between the Apology and the Crito,’ Dialogue, Vol. 46 (2004): 67-79

David Gallop, ‘Socrates, Injustice, and the Law: A Response to Plato's Crito

Ancient-Philosophy. Vol. 18 (1998), 251-265.

Some Paper Topics on Plato



8. PLATO’S THEORY OF LOVE. What understanding of the nature of erôs or ‘passionate desire’ is it reasonable to attribute to Plato on the basis of the speech given by Socrates/Diotima in the Symposium? Why have some scholars concluded that Plato’s account, understood as a theory of our love of persons, is a failure? Is there any defense of Plato to be made in response to these criticisms?

Some relevant readings:

G. Vlastos, ‘The Individual as an Object of Love in Plato,’ Platonic Studies (Princeton)

Donald Levy, ‘The Definition of Love in Plato’s Symposium,’ Journal of the History of Ideas, Vol. 40 (1979), 285-91.

I. Singer, The Nature of Love: Plato to Luther (New York, 1966), esp. 66-90.
9. A FALLCY IN PLATO’S REPUBLIC? Explain David Sachs’s criticism of the defense of justice Socrates offers in Plato’s Republic. Is Sachs’s charge of ‘fallacy’ a credible one? Did Plato ever attempt to link ‘vulgar justice’ and ‘Platonic justice’, and if so, how? Do you think Plato succeeded in defending justice against the cynical view presented by Glaucon and Adeimantus, or do you suspect that justice may not be nearly so profitable as Socrates claimed it is?

Some relevant readings:

Plato, Republic, Book IV.

David Sachs, 'A Fallacy in Plato's Republic', Philosophical Review, Vol. 72, 1963, pp. 141-58:

R. Singpurwalla, 'Plato's Defense of Justice in the Republic' in G. Santas, ed. Blackwell's Companion to Plato's Republic

Norman O. Dahl, Plato's Defense of Justice in Philosophy and Phenomenological Research, Vol. 51, No. 4 (Dec., 1991), pp. 809-834

Richard Kraut, The defense of Justice in Plato's Republic in r. Kraut, ed. The Cambridge Companion to Plato

Gregory Vlastos, "Justice and Happiness in the Republic" in G. Vlastos, Platonic Studies.

Hall R. W., ‘Plato's theory of justice in the Republic,’ Bucknell Review, Vol. 15 (1967), 59-69.
10. THE THEORY OF FORMS. What was Plato's Theory of Forms? Why did he think that there must be such things as Forms or Ideas? How does Plato make use of the theory of Forms in his proposals for political reform and proper scientific method, as well as in his accounts of knowledge, meaning, beauty, and love?

Some relevant readings:

Plato, Phaedo and Republic Books VI and VII.

H. Cherniss, ‘The Philosophical Economy of the Theory of Ideas’ in G. Vlastos, ed., Plato, Vol. I: Metaphysics and Epistemology (New York, 1971), pp. 16-27.

N. White, ‘Plato’s Metaphysical Epistemology’ in Kraut, A Companion to Plato’s Republic, 277-310.

Richard Ketchum, ‘Plato on the Unknowability of the Sensible World’, History of Philosophy Quarterly (July, 1987), pp. 291-305.


11. PLATO’S ATTITUDE TOWARD WOMEN. Why have some hailed Plato as an early advocate on behalf of improved education and political opportunities for women? Why have some denied that Plato deserves to be regarded as in any sense a feminist, or seriously concerned with the quality of lives women lead? What is your own view of the relevant criteria to be used in answering this question, and how does Plato fare on what you regard as the relevant criteria?

Some relevant readings:

Julia Annas, An Introduction to Plato’s Republic (New York, 1981).

Marilin B. Arthur, ‘Early Greece: the origins of the Western attitude toward women,’ Arethusa, Vol. 6 (1973), pp. 7-58.

Adriana Cavarero, In Spite of Plato: A Feminist Rewriting of Ancient Philosophy (New York, 1995).

Donald Richter, ‘The Position of Women in Classical Athens,’ Classical Journal, Vol. 67 (1971), pp. 1-8.

Dorothea Wender, ‘Plato: Misogynist, Paedophile, and Feminist,’ Arethusa, Vol. 6 (1973), pp. 75-90.

Gregory Vlastos, ‘Was Plato a Feminist?’ in Nancy Tuana, ed., Feminist Interpretations of Plato (University Park, Pa., 1994).


12. PLATO’S AND FREUD’S TRIPARTITE PSYCHOLOGY. Both Plato and Freud considered it plausible to think of the soul as containing distinct parts or distinctive psychic functions. How were their approaches similar? How did their approaches differ?

Some relevant readings:

Colin Strang, ‘Tripartite Soul: Ancient and Modern, Apeiron Vol. 16 (1982), 1-11.

G. Santas, Plato and Freud: Two Theories of Love (Blackwell, 1988).



G. B. Nussbaum, ‘The tripartite psyche. Plato, Freud, and transactional analysis,’ Liverpool Classical Monthly, Vol. 4 (1979), 3-8.


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