GK 390 • Three Ancient Cosmologists
7:00 PM-10:00 PM
We shall read, analyze, and discuss two major classics, as well as selections from Aristotle's works. The classics are Lucretius' poem, De rerum natura, "On the Nature of Things," and Plato's Timaeus. The course's theme of cosmology, as suggested by the choice of texts, is quite broad: it encompasses not only physics, astronomy, astrophysics, and meteorology, but also metaphysics, the philosophy of mind, epistemology, and philosophy of science. Lucretius' poem is the fullest and most elegant statement we possess from antiquity of a physicalist or materialist cosmology. It constitutes a synthesis and summation of the physicalist and evolutionary cosmologies that had been propounded by the main tradition of the pre-Platonic "natural philosophers." Plato's Timaeus represents the polar opposite: a decidedly idealistic cosmology, a creationist theology, with a dualist metaphysics and epistemology. Aristotle's system is famously a mediation and synthesis: certainly a naturalist doctrine; but one that is both anti-materialist and anti-dualist. The main sessions of the seminar will be conducted on the basis of English translations; no knowledge of Greek will be presupposed. For students taking the seminar under the "Greek390" offering, there will be a "satellite" group for translation and philological discussion of key texts from Plato's Timaeus. Significant portions of the seminar will track the argument in Gregory Vlastos' 1975 book, Plato's Universe. Accordingly, students in the seminar will be encouraged to make use of the materials in the Vlastos Archive at the Harry Ransom Humanities Research Center (e.g., Vlastos' preliminary studies and notes leading up to the book, drafts of the book, study notes on the Timaeus, study notes on the pre-Socratic natural philosophers, letters between Vlastos and students/colleagues/critics concerning his work). The seminar does not have as pre-requisite prior course-work either in ancient philosophy or in ancient science (graduate or undergraduate). It could also serve, therefore, as a thematically focused graduate-level introduction to ancient philosophy.
(a) At least two seminar presentations on source materials (about twenty minutes each); delivered orally and then written up in the form of a report that also takes into account the in-class discussion of the presentation. (b) A term paper of about 12 pages. (c) Collaborative projects: teams of students will acquire special expertise in one particular area (e.g., the doctrine of multiplicity in explanation in Lucretius, ancients' explanation of solar or lunar eclipses, Plato's chemistry, Aristotle's model of planetary motions, theology, theories of the soul). (d) Negotiated substitutions for the above for students taking the course as Greek 390 (e.g., translation and explication exam instead of term paper).
Lucretius, On The Nature Of Things. Translated, with Introduction and Notes, by Martin Ferguson Smith. Hackett Publishing Company. Paper: $13.95 (0-87220-587-8). Plato, Timaeus. Translated, with Introduction, by Donald J. Zeyl. Hackett Publishing Company. Paper: $10.95 (0-87220-446-4). Aristotle (photocopied selections from Physics, Metaphysics, On the Heavens, Meteorologica). Gregory Vlastos, Plato's Universe, with a new Introduction by Luc Brisson. Parmenides Publishing. Paper $22.00 (1-930972-13-X; 978-1-930972-13-1). RECOMMENDED (AND INCLUDED IN "BOOKS ON RESERVE " AT PCL) M. R. Wright, Cosmology in Antiquity; F. M. Cornford, Plato's Cosmology; Liba Taub, Ancient Meteorology