Ancient Greek Philosophy

Pleasure and the Good in Ancient Greek Philosophy

Presenter:  Clerk Shaw, PhD

Course Location, Time, and Date:  Tellico Village Library, Friday May 15, 9:30-11


History occasionally conjures extraordinary coincidences, a prime example being the overlapping lives of the three great Greek philosophers who together, from the later 5th into the 4th century BCE, shaped Western Civilization itself: Socrates, Plato, and Aristotle. Socrates was the teacher of Plato, and Plato later became the teacher of Aristotle. Socrates left nothing of his philosophy in writing — in his time a new-fangled technology he did not trust. However, Plato recorded what he learned from Socrates, and as well wrote extensively himself. His student Aristotle wrote at great length on a whole universe of subjects.

Ancient Greek philosophers agree that every human being aims to live well.  However, they disagree about what living well consists of, and in particular, whether living well is simply living pleasantly.  In this class, we will start from the famous image of Plato’s Cave.  From there, we will investigate why Plato denies that pleasure is the good and how confusing “pleasure” and “good” makes us disagreeable and miserable.  Finally, we will turn to Epicurus, antiquity’s most prominent defender of hedonism, or the seeking of pleasure as a principle of life (though in this context that does not refer to the pursuit of excesses of self-indulgent behavior), Epicurus, and seek to understand the deep sources of his disagreement with Plato.

Presenter:  Clerk Shaw is Associate Professor of Philosophy of UT-Knoxville.  He completed his PhD at Washington University in St. Louis in 2007 and started teaching at UT later that year.  He is the author of a book and several articles with special focus on hedonism and anti-hedonism in ancient Greek and Roman philosophy.  More generally, Dr. Shaw is interested in pleasure, pain, and the emotions, and how these are related to conceptions of the human good and virtue.

Class Fee:  $5    Prepay Lisa at the Welcome Center. (Checks to TVU – POA)