Everything you always wanted to know about Greek philosophy

by Massimo Pigliucci

My academic semester is just about to end. Indeed, today will be my last class. Not only that: I’m about to go on sabbatical, which means that I will neither teach nor participate to administrative meetings for the entire 2023. Just reading and writing about Hellenistic philosophies and about Cicero, the topics of two books I intend to write while traveling in Rome, Syracuse (Sicily), Western Turkey, and Athens.

But that’s what is to come, fate permitting. The inspiration for the current essay is the course I just finished teaching at the City College of New York: Philosophy 30500—History of Philosophy, Ancient. It’s a course that is aimed mostly at students majoring in philosophy, and I had never taught it before. For good reasons, since I’m not a scholar of ancient philosophy. My specialty is philosophy of science.

But my Department’s Chair asked me to teach 30500 because of the popularity of my courses on practical philosophy, which focus on the Greco-Romans. I accepted the challenge, and it surely was a lot of fun! As textbook I used Thomas A. Blackson’s Ancient Greek Philosophy: From the Presocratics to the Hellenistic Philosophers. And both my students and I learned a lot in the process.

This also was a rare opportunity—precisely because I am external to the field and because it was the first time I taught the course—to look at the entire subject matter with fresh eyes. What follows is a summary of what I think are the major ideas coming out of Greek Classical and Hellenistic philosophy, a sort of mini intellectual tour de force that should make it clear why it is still very much worthwhile to study what they thought. Enjoy! … (continue at Substack)

Published by Massimo

Massimo is the K.D. Irani Professor of Philosophy at the City College of New York. He blogs at platofootnote.org and howtobeastoic.org. He is the author of How to Be a Stoic: Using Ancient Philosophy to Live a Modern Life.

4 thoughts on “Everything you always wanted to know about Greek philosophy

  1. What other books did you use, if any, as secondary/add-on books? I’ve got Myles Burnyeat’s “The Skeptical Tradition” and one book on Cynicism whose name and author I can’t remember off the top of my head.


    1. Got it. At the BA level in classics, you generally don’t read full texts in the original, of course, but I read selections from The Republic and Epictetus’ Enchiridion. In Latin, religious but also philosophical, I read all of Augustine’s De Libero Arbitrio; I’d argue it, more than City of God, might be his single most influential work as you can draw a pretty bright line from it to Luther and Calvin.

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