Sunday, January 29, 2006

Syllabus: Plato and Aristotle

Spring, 2006
Beth Bilynskyj, instructor

A 307
MWF 2-2:50pm

Description of Course:

a seminar introducing and critically examining the thought of Plato and Aristotle. Particular attention will be given to Plato’s Republic and Aristotle’s Nichomachean Ethics.

Purpose of Course:

To enable students to increase their ability to think rationally, critically and creatively.
• To provide a fundamental part of a Christian liberal arts education, integrating NCC’s biblical and Christian studies with rigorous philosophical study.
• To prepare students for effective and successful roles in teaching and the liberal arts.
• To encourage students to personally grow in virtue (arete) and the contemplation of what is good, true and beautiful.

Course Objectives:

Upon completing this course, you will be able to:

Analyze and evaluate the claims of Plato and Aristotle by having written five critical essays
• Demonstrate proficiency with relevant concepts and claims by having participated in lively class discussion.
• Compare and contrast Plato and Aristotle’s metaphysics, epistemology, ethics and politics by having completed a final essay exam.
• Describe and use dialogue and dialectic as models for teaching
• Describe and discuss the teleological dimensions of life’s issues and practices.

Textbook and Resource material:

Plato, Five Dialogues: Euthyphro, Apology, Crito, Meno and Phaedo, translated by G.M.A. Grube and revised by John M. Cooper. 2nd ed. Indianapolis: Hackett, 2002.

• Plato, The Republic, translated by Benjamin Jowett. Mineola, NY: Dover, 2000.

• Aristotle, The Nichomachean Ethics, translated by J.A.K. Thomson, revised with notes and appendices by Hugh Tredennick, introduction and Further Reading by Jonathan Barnes. Further Revised edition. New York: Penguin, 2004.

• Aristotle, Metaphysics selections, available online at

• Aristotle, Physics selections, available online at

• Aristotle, On the Soul selections, available online at

• Handouts and reserve readings, at instructor’s discretion.

Instructor Information:

Beth Bilynskyj, M.A. Philosophy, University of Notre Dame, 1979.

• 744-9343 (home phone; leave message and best time for me to return your call)

• (probably the best way for us to immediately connect)

• Office Hours: Fridays, 1-2pm; or by appointment

Please feel free to contact me. It is important that we end confusion and answer your questions as soon as possible. I also welcome your comments on the content of the course, and/or any suggestions you have to improve the class. Most of all, I want to get to know
you, and have you get to know Plato and Aristotle.


1. Attendance, reading, participation (25%)

Philosophy has been described as a “great conversation,” so the focus of our time together will be discussing the day’s assigned readings. Plan to spend at least two hours in preparation for every hour in class. Those who have not read the material will be unable to contribute profitably to the discussion, so their participation scores will suffer. Absence is the greatest damper for discussion, so you should make every effort not to miss class. Everyone has something to contribute, so your presence is important. Please refer to the attendance policy below.

2. Critical Essays (5 worth 10% each)

Emphasizing clear exposition, critical thinking and evaluation, these essays give you an opportunity to interact with Plato and Aristotle’s philosophical claims on a more personal level. You will be given a choice of selected questions upon which to write, or may appeal to the instructor for permission to write using your own question. Each essay should be 2-3 pages in length, and will be graded on the basis of clarity, conciseness and completeness. These are not to be understood as research papers, but rather critical examinations of concepts and/or arguments. The successful student will also attend to proper grammar, diction, and syntax, and turn in his or her work on time. Please refer to Late Work policy below. As I rule I prefer to receive hard copies rather than online copies, so unless you have had prior permission to submit your work virtually, your grade will be reduced.

Due dates:

First essay due: 2/1
• Second essay due: 2/17
• Third essay due: 3/8
• Fourth essay due: 4/3
• Fifth essay due: 4/21
• Final essay exam: 3:15 pm, Wednesday, May 3.

3. Final Take-home Essay Exam (25%)

Again, clear exposition, critical thinking and evaluation will be expected, but in addition, this final essay will demand that you integrate material from across the entire course. I will use the same standards for grading this essay as I use for the other essays. Length: 6-8 pages.

Academic Policies:

(quotations taken from Mick Bollenbough’s syllabi)

1. Attendance

“There is an expectation that students will come to class on time and be in attendance every day we are scheduled to meet. Students are excused from class only in cases of illness, emergency, and recognized commitments to the College, e.g., NCC days, intercollegiate softball and basketball. Being absent from class more than three times leads to significant grade reductions, i.e. A becomes A-, B+ becomes B, etc. Ten or more unexcused absences will result in automatic failure of the course.”

2. ADA policy

If you are having difficulty and are in need of academic support because of a documented disability, whether it is psychiatric, learning, physical, or sensory, you may be eligible for academic accommodation through the disability services office in the Dean of Students office.” Please make contact with the Dean of Students within the first two weeks of class, as accommodation cannot be guaranteed if contact is made after this time.

3. Timeliness and Academic Honesty

Students are expected to submit their work on time. As a general rule, no late work will be accepted. It is expected that all work will be the product of students’ own efforts. Plagarism and academic dishonesty in any form will not be tolerated.”

Final comments:

While Plato’s dialogues are probably more accessible to students than Aristotle’s drier, discursive format, they are no less demanding. I cannot lie: philosophical texts are difficult. However, it is my hope that you will find our readings stimulating and--at times-- even poetic. If you find the readings difficult, you are not alone. It is my hope that as we will deal with this material together, we will become a community supportive of one another, together engaging in the great conversation which is philosophy. Thank you for being part of this class.

• Here are some ongoing questions we will explore together:

1) There are two conceptions of philosophy. The Sophists saw it as a game or tool, while Plato and Aristotle saw it as a way of life. How do you see it?

2) What does it mean to be human? Is the unexamined life not worth living? Do philosophers have something to contribute to this discussion, or are they dangerous?

3) Which should come first: metaphysics, or epistemology? What difference does it make?

4) Intelligent Design can be seen as a rediscovery of final causality. Should science deal with this?

5) The only explanation available to Plato and Aristotle for evil and “weakness of will” was ignorance. Do you agree, or is there more to be said?

6) What is the relation of a person to the polis/state? Of the polis/state to the person?

7) Unlike most postmodernist idealist and subjectivist thinkers, Plato and Aristotle are realists, holding that there exists a world which we have not constructed, but which we are able to know. Is it possible to still be a realist today?

Patience is the companion of wisdom. --Saint Augustine

Reading furnishes the mind only with materials of knowledge; it is thinking that makes what we read ours. --John Locke

Thomas Carlyle writes, "It is all very well to talk of getting rid of one's ignorance, of seeing things in their reality, seeing them in their beauty; but how is this to be done when there is something which thwarts and spoils all our efforts? This something is sin." --William Barrett

Piety does not dispense with technique. –Etienne Gilson