Q.1) The death of Socrates, to a large extent, occurred because the citizens of ancient Athens’ were unable to distinguish clearly between Socrates and any old sophist; accordingly, a comparison of Socrates to the sophists will help one to avoid making the same mistake as that committed by those early members of the Western world. Why, then, is Socrates often mistaken as a sophist? In what ways is he different from them? In crafting one’s response, one would do well to consider to what respective ends rhetoric is employed and why; nomadism versus fidelity to Athens; Aristophanes’ portrayal of Socrates in The Clouds; Socrates’ description of himself as a “gadfly”; Socrates’ description of himself as a “midwife”; Socrates’ reason for confessing that he cannot teach knowledge and, accordingly, why he cannot accept payment; the sophists’ reason for charging their students; and relativism and skepticism/cynicism versus absolute knowledge, or Truth.
Q.2) Who are the sophists? One would do well to consider some, if not all, of the following: the historical context surrounding the emergence of sophistry; the nature of the material that the sophists claimed to teach; the definitions of, and the relationship between, rhetoric and relativism, respectively, (including the roles of skepticism, agnosticism, and the logos, as well as Protagoras’ claim that “of all things, man is the measure”); the definitions of, and the
relationship between, physis and nomos (including the tie to relativism, the collapse of the distinction between knowledge and opinion, and, consequently, what becomes of the logos).
Q.3) According to Socrates’ friend, Chaerephon, the sacred Oracle at Delphi claimed that no one was wiser than Socrates of Athens; however, Socrates claims to know only one thing: that he possess no wisdom whatsoever. Nonetheless, what four beliefs does Socrates appear ‘to know,’ or hold to be true? What makes him reasonably certain of these convictions? Is there anything ironic about his seeming ‘to know’ these things? One would do well to include consideration of the Socratic method and dialectic vs. dogmatism; Alcibiades’ eulogy of Socrates; Socrates’ attitude in the face of death; and his pronouncement that “the unexamined life is not worth living.”
Q.4) According to Saint Augustine, how is the world ordered, and what does such order suggest about the nature of God? One would do well to consider the following: Plotinus’ notion of the One; emanation versus voluntary, loving creation ex nihilo; The Great Chain of Being; being as intelligibility; the metaphysical status of nothingness.
Q.5) What is the problem of evil in Saint Augustine’s thought? Consider some or all of the following in your response: both types of evil (natural and moral, which is to say, evil as privation of good/intelligibility and moral evil), the free will and its corruption, spiritual conversion rather than mere ascertainment of knowledge, Augustine’s interpretation of the Fall of Man, Augustine’s notion of babies, the Great Chain of Being as a hierarchy of values; pride; the nature of sin; original sin; loves, both ordered and disordered.
Q.6) Saint Augustine identifies himself as a Neo-Platonist, following in the tradition of Socrates, Plato (and Plotinus); in what way is Augustine’s thought similar to, different from, and a development of or deviation from Socrates and Plato’s philosophy? Feel free to focus on any feature(s) of their respective thought and offer a nuanced comparison and contrast thereon.
Q.7) In what way is Philosophy reactionary? Select one of the two major thinkers that we covered in class and discuss how each thinker’s particular poetic philosophy is a reaction to the culture of his time, as well as to the tradition. One would do well to consider the following: the polytheism of ancient Greece; sophistic influence thereon; Manichaeism; and early Christianity.
Q.8) The history of western philosophy is, as the title of Norman Melchert’s book indicates, a great conversation; in many ways, this great conversation begins with Socrates and his various contemporaries- particularly, the conversation that takes place among them and some of their immediate successors found in late Antiquity. Please trace the trajectory of this conversation as it begins in ‘Socrates’ and moves through Saint Augustine of Hippo. One would do well to consider the precise ways in which each thinker’s claim(s) is somehow
shaped by the thinker(s) that came before him (including, perhaps, the influence of geographic location) and, more broadly, the cohesiveness of the overall conversation.