Online course: Ancient Philosophy: Aristotle and His Successors

Dates: any time

Duration: 15 hours

Rating: 4.8 / 5.0 out of 604 ratings (see top rating courses here)

Participating countries: any country

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Organizer: University of Pennsylvania at Coursera


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  • $49 with sharable certificate

Ancient Philosophy: Aristotle and His Successors

What is philosophy? How does it differ from science, religion, and other modes of human discourse? This course traces the origins of philosophy in the Western tradition in the thinkers of Ancient Greece. We begin with the Presocratic natural philosophers who were active in Ionia in the 6th century BCE and are also credited with being the first scientists. Thales, Anaximander, and Anaximines made bold proposals about the ultimate constituents of reality, while Heraclitus insisted that there is an underlying order to the changing world. Parmenides of Elea formulated a powerful objection to all these proposals, while later Greek theorists (such as Anaxagoras and the atomist Democritus) attempted to answer that objection. In fifth-century Athens, Socrates insisted on the importance of the fundamental ethical question—“How shall I live?”—and his pupil, Plato, and Plato’s pupil, Aristotle, developed elaborate philosophical systems to explain the nature of reality, knowledge, and human happiness. After the death of Aristotle, in the Hellenistic period, Epicureans and Stoics developed and transformed that earlier tradition. We will study the major doctrines of all these thinkers. Part I will cover Plato and his predecessors. Part II will cover Aristotle and his successors.


WEEK 1: 2 hours to complete

Aristotle’s Categories

Aristotle’s anti-Platonic metaphysics: the ultimate realities are ordinary objects of our experience, like people and animals. Each of these is a substances, the most fundamental type of being.

Introduction to Ancient Philosophy
Introduction to Aristotle
Subjects and Predicates
Universals and Particulars
Substance and Subject
Subjects of Change
Aristotle’s Categories

WEEK 2: 3 hours to complete

Aristotle’s Natural Philosophy

Natural substances have matter and form, and natural processes are goal-directed. Every living thing, plants and animals included, has a soul that moves it.

Matter, Form, and Change
Is Form or Matter Nature?
The Four Causes
Natural Teleology
Soul As Cause
Aristotle’s Physics
Aristotle’s On the Soul
Change & Nature
Causes in Nature
Aristotelian Souls

WEEK 3: 3 hours to complete

Aristotle’s Ethics

The motion of the universe is eternal and its cause is an eternal unmoved mover, Aristotle’s god. Our goal in life is to achieve happiness, which comes in two varieties: the human happiness we achieve by exercising the virtues of character, and the godlike happiness we achieve when we grasp eternal truths.

The Eternity of Motion
The First Mover of the Cosmos
The Unmoved Mover
The Goal of Life
What Are You Doing With Your Life?
Happiness and Living Well
Pleasure and the Human Function
Virtue of Character
Godlike Virtue
Aristotle’s Metaphysics
Aristotle’s Ethics

WEEK 4: 3 hours to complete


Epicureans return to the atomism of Democritus, and find no purpose in nature. Philosophy is a therapeutic practice that removes fear and anxiety and provides us with the tranquility (ataraxia) of the gods.

Introduction to Epicurus
Nature and the God
Therapeutic Philosophy
Death Is Nothing To Us
What’s Wrong With Death?
Restricting Desire
Enduring Pain
The Letter to Menoeceus
The Letter of Epicurus to Herodotus
On the nature of the gods
Principal Doctrines

WEEK 5: 4 hours to complete


A providential god is at work in every detail of the cosmos, where everything happens by fate. Our goal in life is to accommodate ourselves to this divine nature by giving up our concern for (but not our pursuit of) worldly objectives.

Introduction to Stoicism
God in Nature
Following Nature
A Good Flow of Life
The Goal vs. The Target
The Lazy Argument
What Is Up To Us
Stoic Compatibilism
The Enchiridion
On the nature of the gods
De Fato (On Fate)
De Finibus (On Ends)