The Ralph McInerny Center for Thomistic Studies will offer a three-year program in philosophical studies that will provide a wide-ranging introduction to classical philosophy. This program will consist of six courses over three years (during the fall and spring semesters), each course consisting of 6 or 7 two-hour sessions, including lectures and time for discussion.

This program is intended for generally educated citizens who wish to develop a deeper grounding in philosophy. No previous formal study in philosophy is required. Our goal is to provide people with sound philosophical “tools” that will help them to evaluate and form judgments about problems and issues facing them and their fellow citizens, drawing especially on the ethics and metaphysics of Thomas Aquinas.

OUR FIRST COURSE will be an introduction to ancient Greek philosophy. We will begin September 27, 2006 (Wednesday) from 7 to 9 p.m., at the McInerny Center office at 616 E Street, NW, Suite 1214. Short recommended readings will be provided online, along with suggestions for further reading. OUR SECOND COURSE will briefly survey the main periods in the history of philosophy, from Medieval to Early Modern until contemporary philosophy. And it will focus particularly on two absolutely uniquely great figures like Augustine and Thomas Aquinas. OUR THIRD COURSE will deal with the basic principles in natural philosophy and logic as the needed background for the study more advanced areas, like metaphysics, in the FOURTH COURSE, and ethics and political theory in the FIFTH COURSE. Finally, in the SIXTH COURSE, we will end the program by addressing the public square and the current issue.

Classes will be taught by Fulvio Di Blasi (University of Palermo), Joshua Hochschild (Mt. St. Mary’s College), Ralph McInerny (University of Notre Dame), Dr. Michael Pakaluk (Clark University), Christopher Wolfe (Marquette University) and other Visiting Professors.

Cost of enrolling: $ 100.00 per course ($ 50.00 for students). Some tuition grants are available. To register, contact

Tuesday, September 30, 2008

I. Philosophy, the Beginning - Seventh Class


Hellenistic Philosophy
(Epicureans, Stoics, Skeptics), and Neoplatonism

Hellenistic Philosophy
Deepest spiritual crisis in Greece:
- (Alexander the Great:) End of the polis/beginning of empires (Macedonia; Syria;
- From citizens to subjects;
- From civic virtues to technical bureaucratic skills;
- Collapse of traditional values;
- Big turn in moral and political thought;
- Cosmopolitism: falls down the distinction between Greeks and barbarians… and (to a
certain extent) between man and women (Epicurus would accept women in the
New philosophical systems:
- Materialism;
- Individualism: from citizens to individuals: education aims now, not at forming
citizens, but individuals; separation between ethics and politics; selfishness, in a
- Need for ethics (secular faiths)… grounded on (poor) physics… grounded on (poor)
- More phronesis than sophia;
- Consistency between (philosophical) doctrine and life;
- Return to Socrates:
§ autonomy and self-sufficiency;
§ peace of the spirit (happiness through detachment and renunciations);
§ idealization of the wise(s): the true man… similar to God… all founders of
the new great systems were divinized…

End of Minor Socratic Schools and decay of Plato and Aristotle’s schools: (end of the IV
century b.C.)
- Cynicism/(Antistene) Diogenes (I’m searching for the man): attempt to free himself
from every convention and induced need of society… license of free speech and
actions… public scandals… (Cratete);
- Academy;
- Peripato;

Epicureans (Epicurus, Lucretius)
Epicurus against Platonism’s metaphysics, religious and transcendental view, political
approach centered on the polis;
- Plato’s path to the truth: gradual detachment of the soul from the sentient world by
way of reasoning: First step: mathematical knowledge; Second step: dialectic… till
the knowledge of the ideas themselves;
- Epicurus: sensation/sentient knowledge as the highest criterion of truth. Reasoning
leads as away from the truth: it hides the truth instead of reviling it.
Epicurus: first very well aware materialist;
Philosophy as a system, not as specific issues and problems;
Ethics is superior to metaphysic, physics, and ontology;
- Nothing comes from the nothingness and nothing goes to the not existence…
- The whole is made of bodies and emptiness;
- Bodies are either composed or simple (atoms);
- Atoms are in a constant falling-down movement:
- doctrine of deviation (clinamen); mechanical movement but also… random/free
source of movements in the universe;
- no rationality but also no necessity (determinism): just randomness…
- Soul as a group of atoms… air-shaped and windy; mortal…
- Amazingly enough, Epicurus does not deny the existence of the gods.
Logics: it’s really a kind of philosophy of knowledge: an attempt to figure how we know
correclty starting with experiences.
- Three criteria/principles of truth:
- (1) Sensation: always true: it receives the atomic representation (image) of the thing;
- (2) Mental representation of the atomic structures received by the senses: what
remains in our memory… Names indicate these representations.
- (3) Feelings of pain and pleasure: (moral) sensations that determines what is good
and what is evil (to avoid): they can never be wrong;
- Opinion: it can be true or false because of the reasoning: unlike the other three
elements, they are not self-evidently true. They are true only when confirmed by
- The essence of man is material… material must be also his end;
- Human good: feelings of pleasure (hedonism);
- No need of reasoning to achieve the end;
- Unlike Cynicism: Absence of pain as the highest pleasure;
- Unlike Cynicism: pleasures of the soul higher than pleasures of the body;
- Utilitarianism: prudential reasoning applied to the maximization of pleasures…
Calculation of the best rank of pleasures; Prudence as supreme virtue;
- Pleasures (kinds and rank):
§ Natural and necessary (e.g.: eat, drink…);
§ Natural but unnecessary (e.g.: to eat well, refined drink, etc.);
§ Not natural and not necessary (e.g.: desire to be rich, to be honored,
powerful, etc.).
- Avoiding worries: (a) time… fleeing; (b) pain… that might always come; (c) death.
Absence of pain as supreme good… detach ourselves… Vice as ignorance of these
- Political utilitarianism: utility as the main ground of justice;
- Friendship: special role… special pleasure…

Stoics (Zeno)
Refusal of Epicureanism: man not just atoms… moral good not just pleasures;
No atoms but logos;
Logics: sensation/representation – dialectic – rhetoric
Freedom and necessity.

Skepticism and eclecticism

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