Plato criticizes pre-Socratic physicists for failing to offer teleological explanations, and he criticizes physics as being merely narrative, without definitions or demonstrations, and thus unscientific. In the Timaeus he offers an alternative physics which explains as much as possible by the demiurge's purpose to make the world as good as possible, but this physics remains narrative and unscientific. Both Aristotle and the Stoics agree with Plato's critique of pre-Socratic physics, but they try to show that a reconstructed teleological physics (including biology and psychology) can be scientific; indeed, the Stoics try to show that physics can be the kind of science that Socrates had said would be necessary and sufficient for virtue. Both Aristotle and the Stoics examine how far the production of things by nature is analogous to the production of things by art or craft. To the extent that the analogy holds, it seems that we should try to understand natural things, as if they were produced by deliberation for some purpose, by reconstructing the series of thoughts that would have led to their production. For Aristotle this is only an analogy, with points of similarity and of difference, but for the Stoics, nature is literally the craft of Zeus, and a human sage, in having the science of physics, has the same science that Zeus has. It is not just a theoretical but also a productive science, and though we cannot use it, as Zeus does, to produce a world, we can use it to understand his action, and to cooperate, to the extent of our abilities, with Zeus' governance of the world.
For roughly the first half of the semester we will read texts from Aristotle, concentrating on the Parts of Animals and Generation of Animals and perhaps looking briefly at some cosmological texts. We will then turn to fragments of the Stoics; we will be particularly interested in Stoic cosmology, the place of biology (including the theory of human nature) within cosmology, and the analogical extension of biological and medical concepts to the cosmos. We will examine some fundamental concepts of Stoic physics, and we will ask how far the Stoics are responding to Aristotle, and how far each school is independently responding to the difficulties facing Plato.
The course is intended for students both in philosophy and in classics, assuming a basic knowledge of Platonic and Aristotelian theoretical philosophy and a basic knowledge of Greek. The course would naturally build on Menn's WS 2012-13 proseminar on Aristotle's Physics II, but does not presuppose it. Anyone who has studied Greek natural philosophy or medicine is very welcome. The instructors expect to speak in English, but student contributions may be in either English or German.