Sunday, June 23, 2019

The Canon of Western Philosophy: Ancient and Medieval

I have a fair sense of the key works in Western philosophy. If a person wanted to read these key works, what would they be? This and two more posts are my attempt. What am I missing?

Ancient Greco-Roman Philosophy
The Pre-Socratic Philosophers (fragments, here is a possible source)

One can of course read all of Plato's surviving dialogs. However, here is a selection I might suggest:
  • Start with the trio: Apology, Crito, Phaedo (the first is the account of Socrates' trial, the second about justice as he is in jail, the third speaks of the immortality of the soul as Socrates dies)
  • Euthyphro
    (just prior to the Apology, Socrates addresses whether good is good because the gods say so or whether the gods say things are good because they are good independent of them)
  • The Republic
    (perhaps his most important work, giving the myths of the cave and Gyges' ring)
  • The Symposium
    (Plato's dialog on eros, love, giving insights into Greek banquets and sexuality)
  • The Timaeus
    (Plato's best known dialog on cosmology)
  • Meno
    (Plato's theory of knowledge as remembrance)
  • Phaedrus
    (gives Plato's opinions of writing)
Here is the standard two volume collection of Aristotle's surviving writings: volume 1 and volume 2.
  • I suppose for me the Nicomachean Ethics is the most important work, especially book X.
  • A second work of interest are his Metaphysics, so named because they came after the Physics. It begins with Aristotle's sense of the pre-socratics.
  • His Politics are of interest for me especially as background to the household codes of the New Testament. "Man is a political animal."
  • His Rhetoric is important background for understanding ancient rhetoric. His Poetics is perhaps the oldest surviving work of literary criticism.
  • Another work of interest to me are the Categories, in which he sets up a system for categorizing everything. His Prior Analytics presents the syllogism.
  • De Anima gives Aristotle's view of the soul.
The Stoics and Middle Platonists
I suggest two secondary works to get a sense of these thinkers:
Other Stoics
  • Cicero (Roman, mid-first century BC): On Friendship, On Old Age, On DutiesOn the Nature of the Gods 
  • Epictetus (Greek, late first, early second AD): Enchiridion 
  • Marcus Aurelius (Roman, late 100s AD): Meditations
Lucretius (Roman Epicurean, first century BC) - On the Nature of Things
Plotinus (Neo-Platonist, 200s AD) - Enneads

Medieval Philosophy
Augustine (late 300s, early 400s)
  • The Confessions (story of his conversion)
  • On Christian Doctrine (gives his hermeneutic)
  • City of God (his philosophy of history, political philosophy)
Boethius (late 400s, early 500s) - Consolation of Philosophy
Thomas Aquinas (1200s) - Summa Theologica
Duns Scotus (late 1200s) - Ordinatio
     (his commentary on Peter Lombard's Sentences, the standard theological work for four centuries)
William of Ockham (early 1300s, nominalism) - Summa Logicae

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