Socrates Who Does (Not) Know: Gorgias, Charmides, Laches, Lysis


Although Socrates has become iconic for “knowing that he doesn’t know”, only some of Plato’s dialogues actually cast Socrates in this light.  Other dialogues portray a Socrates who seems to know a great deal about a great deal (including love, politics, virtue and the afterlife).  In this course we will examine important dialogues of both types.  On the one hand we will read and discuss “aporetic” or “inconclusive” dialogues about the nature of temperance (Charmides), courage (Laches) and friendship (Lysis).  On the other we will consider Plato’s great Gorgias in which Socrates practically preaches for one particular notion of the good life. Continue reading

Critical Thinking


This course is designed to provide an informal introduction to critical thinking.  After an initial consideration of the nature of “argument”, we will work to develop our abilities to (a) understand and analyze arguments put forward by others, (b) formulate and express arguments of their own, and (c) evaluate competing arguments on a given subject.  To pursue these goals we will use two modern “how-to” books to help us read, discuss, and write about the arguments contained in three dialogues of Plato. Continue reading



This course is designed both to introduce students to some of the major texts of the Western philosophical tradition and to help students develop their critical thinking skills, including the ability to understand, assess and formulate logical arguments.  To pursue these goals we will read, discuss and write about a number of classical ethical systems, both ancient and modern. Continue reading

Maimonides’ Guide of the Perplexed


Perhaps the greatest medieval Jewish philosopher, Moses Maimonides’ Guide of the Perplexed is a scholastic attempt to reconcile the “revelation” of the Torah and the “reason” of Aristotelian philosophy.  This class will be devoted to reading the Guide in an attempt to gain insight in the both Maimonides’ perspective and the general issues he raises. Continue reading

Taking Judaism to the Gentiles: Josephus, Philo and Paul


At the end of the Second Temple period, Judaism was well on its way to becoming the dominant religion of the Roman Empire as Jews, “half-Jews”, and “God-fearers” worshipped the God of Israel in various ways and to various degrees.  Thus, like Hellenism before it, Judaism was (mentally) conquering its (political) conquerors.  In this course we will read selections from the works of three Hellenized Jews who lived around the time of Jesus and who were instrumental in “taking Judaism to the Gentiles” — and thus paving the way for the later rise and triumph of Christianity: (1) Josephus, a priest-general turned historian-apologist who participated in the Jewish revolt against Rome; (2) Philo of Alexandria, a leading figure in one of the leading communities of the Jewish Diaspora who attempted to reconcile Jewish religion and Greek philosophy; and (3) Paul (also known as Saul) who — despite often being thought of as a “Christian” — arguably lived and died thinking of himself as a Jew engaged in propagating what he understood to be the full, final flowering of Judaism. Continue reading

Apologies of Socrates and Gospels of Jesus


The lives and deaths of Socrates and Jesus had some remarkable parallels. Both were charismatic teachers claiming to be on divine missions. Both were executed by the ruling elites they challenged. And both were vindicated in the writings of their disciples. This course will explore these and other parallels by reading and discussing two Apologies (Defenses) of Socrates, one by Xenophon and one by Plato, and a number of gospels, some that made it into the New Testament and some that didn’t. In addition to examining the teachings of each figure, we will consider how each one’s calling and legacy is portrayed in the various accounts. The two Apologies of Socrates will be supplemented by selected other dialogues by Xenophon and Plato related to the death of Socrates. Continue reading

Speaking of Zarathustra …


Written between 1883 and 1885, Thus Spoke Zarathustra is perhaps Friedrich Nietzsche’s best-known and most-read work. Yet it may not be his best. For despite the fact that Nietzsche was a mature man of about 40 when he wrote the work, Zarathustra often seems to have an adolescent tone — a tone that does nothing to advance the argument and indeed often seems to detract from it. In this talk, we will attempt to understand both Nietzsche’s argument and his style in this famous — and to some infamous — rant against the Victorian world view. Continue reading

The Apology: Socrates’ Defense, Or the Gospel According to Plato


Because the West has long thought of itself as the fusion of Greek “reason” and Hebrew (Judeo-Christian) “faith”, the secularization which followed the Enlightenment has typically been seen as the West’s disavowal of its Hebrew heritage in favor of its Greek one. Indeed, it is not uncommon today for modem secular humanists and classical Greeks to be considered much of a muchness. Unfortunately, such a view tends to blind us to important features of Greek life, even in figures as seemingly familiar to us as Socrates and Plato. A careful consideration of Plato’s Apology, however, can help resurrect these religious features of these two men who can be seen in many ways as not dissimilar to a range of Hebrew religious figures including, perhaps most strikingly, Jesus and Paul respectively. Continue reading