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Lesley Dean-Jones, Chair 2210 Speedway, Mail Code C3400, Austin, TX 78712-1738 • 512-471-5742

Spring 2004

GK 390 • Seminar in Classical Studies

Unique Days Time Location Instructor
28720 TH
3:30 PM-6:30 PM
WAG 210

Course Description

The beginnings of science and the beginnings of philosophy are intertwined in the speculative cosmologies of the early and classical Greek philosophers (6th through 4th century, B.C.E.). These cosmologies addressed questions such as these: How did the universe begin, and what is its present structure? What is the shape of the earth? What is the nature of celestial bodies, and how do we account for the regular and seemingly irregular motions observed in the heavens? How do we account for the tendency of some bodies to fall "downward," of others (e. g., air, fire) to rise upward, and of yet others (clouds, celestial bodies) to remain suspended? What is the explanation of such conspicuous phenomena as the phases of the moon, solar and lunar eclipses, the motion of planets? In attempting to answer these and related questions, the early Greek philosophers were led to formulate and probe the fundamental models of scientific explanation. They were similarly led to develop fundamental concepts of metaphysics (e.g., change, unchanging reality, causal regularity) and epistemology (e.g., reality vs. appearances, what is evident vs. what is theoretically posited). After four-five weeks of discussion of patterns of explanation developed by the pre-Socratic philosophers, we shall turn to Plato's Timaeus, for study both of fundamental philosophical assumption and details of his speculative cosmology. In the last three-four weeks of the seminar, we shall review the fundamentals of Aristotle's theory of the physical world, and we shall read and discuss key texts from Metaphysics XII, On the Heavens, and Meteorology. The pre-Aristotle sequence of topics in the seminar will track that in Gregory Vlastos' 1975 Plato's Universe. Accordingly, the seminar will 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, letters between Vlastos and students/colleagues/critics concerning the book). 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. (This will complement, not repeat, the readings from Plato's Timaeus that have been on the agenda of the "Euthyphrones" discussion group in fall of this year.)


A Presocratics Reader, Selected Fragments and Testimonia. Ed., Patricia Curd Milton C. Nahm, Selections from Early Greek Philosophy (10 copies at PCL) Plato, Timaeus. Trans., by Donald J. Zeyl. Gregory Vlastos, Plato's Universe M. R. Wright, Cosmology in Antiquity Liba Taub, Ancient Meteorology


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