Thursday, December 17, 2009

Bleg: Ancient philosophy anthologies

I'll be teaching Ancient Philosophy starting at the end of March and was hoping folks could direct me toward a good anthology for such a course. When last I taught it (2004), I used the Baird and Kaufmann anthology (Prentice-Hall). Here are the constraints:
  • It's a quarter course (ten weeks), so I'd prefer a shorter and/or less expensive anthology, since I probably can't assign a large portion of the material anyway.
  • It's intended to be a survey of ancient — I plan on a day or so on the pre-Socratics, some early Socratic material, Plato through the Republic or Theatetus, and a bit of Aristotle. I probably won't be able to cover any post-Aristotelian material.
  • I plan on having the students read one medium-length Platonic dialogue in its entirety (probably the Gorgias or Protagoras).
  • I'd like most of the textbook to be primary sources. I don't mind a little bit of stage setting, context, analysis, etc. from the authors, but that shouldn't be the emphasis.



  1. No boat sails in every water.

    The previous five years I taught the course I used a cheap copy of the five early dialogues of Plato, the Bloom translation of the Republic, and some pocket edition or small anthology of Aristotle. The rest of the standard trope material I dealt with on an ad hoc basis as needed (such as the Presocratics or Neoplatonists). My students began to complain about the price, so I made some changes. This year I streamlined the Ancient readings by using Reginald Allen's *Greek Philosophy: Thales to Aristotle*. It served it's purpose, but it wasn't perfect. It was cheaper, but less interesting. My students responded better to the readings when their books appeared less like a textbook or grand compendium and more like a book inviting them to enjoy. I am returning to my previous selection of texts for the course for next year. I would be glad to hear what success others have had.

  2. Michael -

    Cohen, Curd & Reeve's 'Readings in Ancient Greek Philosophy' (Hackett Press) would seem to fit some of your desiderata - it is 1/10th pre-Socratics and does not cover Hellenistic; the 3e retails at $42 (cheaper than $77 for Baird 7e). It does not, however, contain a full 'Protagoras' or 'Gorgias' (though it does have full versions of 'Phaedo', 'Symposium' and 'Republic').

    The last two years (Fall 08, Fall 09), I switched to Irwin's 'Classical Philosophy' because I wanted to give my students less to read and wanted to try a thematic rather than historical approach. (Annas' 'Voices of ...' is also good, here. Irwin I believe is $45 and Annas' $52). I've decided for next year to go back to CCR, since my students struggled to get the point from the brief excerpts.

    Let me recommend Irwin's 'Classical Thought' as a secondary text. I tried a variety of secondary texts (Annas' VSIntro, Arieti, Shields (Blackwell), Shields (Routledge) before finding this one. It helped my students, at any rate - yours might benefit from something more powerful, such as one of the Shields' books.

    Good luck with the course.
    - Cathal

  3. When I taught an Ancient survey course last year I used the Cohen, Curd, & Reeve anthology from Hackett. It has excellent selections at a good price, but it is fairly large. Baird is thinner, but other than that I don't see any advantage.

    Cathal--thanks for the info on the Irwin books. The thought had occurred to me to try "Classical Philosophy", but I am not surprised that students failed to grasp the significance of the short excerpts.

    I also used the VS Intro to the Presocratics during the first part of the course -- I do not think many of the students benefited from it. My quest for a good secondary text continues!

  4. I know that this does not meet the criteria you set forth, but I want to make a plug for Annas's "Voices of Ancient Wisdom", which is arranged thematically rather than chronologically (with short snippets from both the usual suspects and some lesser read works/authors as well). One of its main virtues, in my opinion, is that allows majors to appreciate the fact that many of the topics discussed and hotly debated today were originally discussed by the ancients--in other words, it answers the question why anyone should care about such old works. If it does not work for you, maybe others might find it useful?

  5. Thanks everyone for responding so thoroughly and promptly. The Cohen and Curd looks very suitable.

    As for secondary texts, does anyone have experience with volume 1 of Kenny's 'A New History of Western Philosophy' from Oxford?


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