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University of Pennsylvania

Ancient Philosophy: Plato & His Predecessors

University of Pennsylvania via Coursera


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What is philosophy? How does it differ from science, religion, and other modes of human discourse? This course traces the origins of philosophy in the Western tradition in the thinkers of Ancient Greece. We begin with the Presocratic natural philosophers who were active in Ionia in the 6th century BCE and are also credited with being the first scientists. Thales, Anaximander, and Anaximines made bold proposals about the ultimate constituents of reality, while Heraclitus insisted that there is an underlying order to the changing world. Parmenides of Elea formulated a powerful objection to all these proposals, while later Greek theorists (such as Anaxagoras and the atomist Democritus) attempted to answer that objection. In fifth-century Athens, Socrates insisted on the importance of the fundamental ethical question—“How shall I live?”—and his pupil, Plato, and Plato’s pupil, Aristotle, developed elaborate philosophical systems to explain the nature of reality, knowledge, and human happiness. After the death of Aristotle, in the Hellenistic period, Epicureans and Stoics developed and transformed that earlier tradition. We will study the major doctrines of all these thinkers. Part I will cover Plato and his predecessors. Part II will cover Aristotle and his successors.


  • The Milesians & Heraclitus
    • Thales, Anaximander, Anaximenes and Xenophanes seek the material principle of the cosmos, and arrive at a radical new conception of the gods. Heraclitus distills the essence of their “naturalism” in his riddling slogans.
  • Parmenides to Plato
    • Parmenides poses a fundamental philosophical challenge to all naturalistic inquiry when he denies the intelligibility of change. Later naturalists (Empedocles, Anaxagoras, and Democritus) respond to his challenge. Plato’s portrait of Socrates raises questions about the nature of philosophy, its role in public life, and the relation between morality and religion.
  • Plato on Virtue, Teaching, & Justice
    • What is virtue, and how can it be taught? What is teaching anyway, and how could we ever acquire knowledge? Socrates gives a geometry lesson purporting to show that learning is recollection. Why should we act justly? What’s in it for us? An elaborate analogy between a city and a human soul seeks to convince us that crime never pays, even if the criminal can escape detection.
  • Plato on Reality & Goodness
    • The ultimate realities are intelligible Forms, while the world of our experience is only an image of that reality. Goodness is a fundamental feature of the world. Plato’s cosmology: the creation of the universe (complete with a world soul) and the principles of mathematical perfection that structure it at every level.

Taught by

Susan Sauvé Meyer


4.8 rating, based on 13 Class Central reviews

4.8 rating at Coursera based on 1486 ratings

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  • Cord.
    This is a beautiful and engaging course, which can be viewed as an introduction to the birth of Philosophy.
    It's very well explained, with several readings, and a good teacher.
    I remember that the assignments were also quite interesting and not very difficult, but you need to put a little work into them, which is a good thing.
    I didn't complete it, but I'm looking forward to doing it in the future.
  • Profile image for Raul Souza
    Raul Souza

    I think this "MOOC" is a great course, of great quality. It helped me to understand the old philosophy since Plato and his predecessors. The teacher is great, the explanation is perfect.
    This is a great opportunity for students of humanity and social sciences
  • Jaqueline
    A filosofia de Platão e excelente e esse curso nos ajuda a conseguir abrir nossa mente para a filosofia
  • Mary Frances Easterling
    Although the lecturer was very thorough in the material discussed I did find it hard to hear the lectures. What I find is that Plato seems to have been a man ahead of his time.
  • Anonymous
    I took the course to gain some general knowledge. The lecturer is excellent, the speaking is well paced. Every now and then, within a lecture, there is micro quiz, so as to make sure a student hasn't loose track.
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