Fall 2018


Plato and Aristotle: A Beginner's Guide (55+)

In the 6th century BCE, Greece gave birth to a unique way of thinking. Rather than explaining the world in terms of poetic myths, thinkers began to examine the great questions, such as the origins of the universe, through rational investigation. This process was termed “philosophy,” from the Greek phileo (love) and sophia (knowledge, wisdom).

The two major figures of this period are Aristotle and Plato. Especially for those with no previous exposure to Greek philosophy, this course will introduce the two thinkers, focusing on Plato’s The Republic and Aristotle’s Nicomachean Ethics. We will also explore why, after two millennia, Platonic and Aristotelian thinking still forms the basis of much intellectual inquiry. Along the way, you’ll learn terms that have become part of standard philosophical language (e.g., “epistemology,” “ontology”), giving you the tools for further reading.

Note: Back by popular demand, from fall 2015.

Please note that enrollment in this course is reserved for adults 55+.

This course is available at the following time(s) and location(s):

Campus Session(s) Instructor(s) Cost Seats available  
Vancouver 6 Gordon Gray $115.00 0 Join Waitlist

What will I learn?

Week 1:  The Emergence of Logos

We place the Greek intellectual emergence within the context of what Karl Jaspers termed “The Axial Age,” (800–200 BCE), and will see how Greek philosophy sought answers to fundamental questions through rational enquiry  (“logos”) rather than mythical poetry (“mythos”).  

Week 2: The Pre-Socratics

We survey the early Greek philosophers known as “pre-Socratics,” before considering how Athens’ involvement in the Peloponnesian War (431–404 BC) was crucial to the thought of Plato’s teacher Socrates, the central figure in the majority of the Platonic dialogues.

Week 3: Plato 1: The Republic

We will learn how Plato’s work can be divided into three categories—early, middle, and late—and see why many consider the Republic to be the peak achievement, not only of the middle period, but of Platonic thought in general.  We will focus on perhaps Plato’s most enduring legacy, the Allegory of the Cave.

Week 4:  Plato 2: From Plato to Aristotle

We will summarize Plato’s key philosophic concepts such as the Forms, the importance of tradition and stability, and his general pessimism about human nature, in order to ground the quite divergent views of his most famous student, Aristotle. We will be introduced to Aristotle’s concepts of the four causes and the tripartite soul.

Week 5: Aristotle’s Philosophy

After surveying Aristotle’s work on the natural sciences (e.g., Physics) and social sciences (e.g. Politics), we will examine Aristotle’s concept of happiness as explained in his Nichomachean Ethics, and see how it results from acting in accordance with one’s essential nature.

Week 6: Neo-Platonism and Beyond

In reviewing the legacy of Plato and Aristotle, we will consider the impact of the “Neo-Platonists” in the development of Christianity, the Aristotelian scholasticism that was foundational to medieval universities, the rebirth of Platonic idealism in the Renaissance, and the importance of Aristotelian logic in the European Enlightenment.

How will I learn?

  • Lectures
  • Discussion (may vary from class to class)
  • Papers (applicable only to certificate students)

How will I be evaluated?

For certificate students only:

Your instructor will evaluate you based on an essay, which you will complete at the end of the course. You will receive a grade of “satisfactory” or “unsatisfactory.”

Textbooks and learning materials

Recommended material

Philosophy SparkCharts by Sparknotes

This material will be available from the SFU Bookstore or at your local or online bookstore.


If you're 55+, you may take this course as part of

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