Hellenistic Philosophy

In these episodes, Peter considers the contribution of the main schools of the Hellenistic age: the Stoics, Epicureans, and Skeptics, and also discusses their reception in the Roman empire. Minor schools like the Cynics and Cyrenaics are also included. With interviews from James Warren, David Sedley, John Sellars, Raphael Woolf, A.A. Long and R.J. Hankinson.

The book version of these podcasts is available from Oxford University Press.

Further Reading

A good place to start, with helpful texts and commentary is:

• A.A. Long and D.N. Sedley, The Hellenistic Philosophers (Cambridge: 1987), vol. 1: translations and commentary, vol.2: texts.

See also:

• K. Algra et al (eds), The Cambridge History of Hellenistic Philosophy (Cambridge: 1999).

Episodes 52 - 76: Hellenistic

52 - Fighting Over Socrates: the Hellenistic Schools

Posted on 30 October 2011

Peter introduces the Hellenistic philosophical schools – the Cynics, Epicureans, Stoics, and Skeptics – and asks how they responded to earlier thinkers.

10 comments
53 - Beware of the Philosopher: the Cynics

Posted on 6 November 2011

In this episode we unleash the most outrageous ancient philosophers, Diogenes and the Cynics, and their quest to “deface the currency” by exposing the hypocrisy of Greek society.

16 comments
54 - Instant Gratification: the Cyrenaics

Posted on 13 November 2011

Peter considers Aristippus and the Cyrenaics, a group of hedonistic philosophers who were in touch with their feelings… but nothing else.

4 comments
55 - The Constant Gardener: Epicurus and his Principles

Posted on 20 November 2011

Peter begins to examine the philosophy of Epicurus, focusing on his empiricist theory of knowledge and his atomic physics.

16 comments
56 - Am I Bothered?: Epicurean Ethics

Posted on 27 November 2011

Epicurus is infamous for thinking that pleasure is the good. But surprisingly, he says the highest pleasure is mere absence of pain. In this episode, Peter enjoys the challenge of trying to understand why.

10 comments
57 - Nothing to Fear: Epicureans on Death and the Gods

Posted on 4 December 2011

Peter considers Epicurus’ attempt to dispel the fear of death and the gods, and along the way looks at the topics of soul, atheism, and philosophy as therapy.

21 comments
58 - Reaping the Harvest: Lucretius

Posted on 11 December 2011

Lucretius’ poem On the Nature of Things sets Epicureanism into verse. Peter takes a look at its treatment of the soul, free will and the swerve and human society.

6 comments
59 - James Warren on Epicureanism

Posted on 18 December 2011

James Warren of Cambridge University talks to Peter about Epicurus, his atomism, his hedonism and the Epicurean arguments against the fear of death.

23 comments
60 - Walking on Eggshells: the Stoics on Logic

Posted on 25 December 2011

Peter arrives at the most influential of the Hellenistic schools, the Stoics, focusing on the early school from Zeno to Chrysippus, and on Stoic innovations in logic.

12 comments
61 - Nobody’s Perfect: the Stoics on Knowledge

Posted on 1 January 2012

The Stoics think there could be a perfect sage, so wise that he is never wrong. Is this a big mistake? Peter investigates their epistemology to find out.

14 comments
62 - We Didn’t Start the Fire: the Stoics on Nature

Posted on 8 January 2012

Peter looks at the Stoic idea of god, a providential fire that pervades nature, and considers their idea of a deterministic and eternally recurring cosmos.

20 comments
63 - Like a Rolling Stone: Stoic Ethics

Posted on 15 January 2012

Peter considers two of the Stoics’ most challenging ideas, a determinism that leaves room for moral responsibility, and the ideal of an ethically perfect sage.

59 comments
64 - David Sedley on Stoicism

Posted on 22 January 2012

David Sedley of Cambridge University chats with Peter about the development of the Stoic school, from the early days to the imperial age.

4 comments
65 - Anger Management: Seneca

Posted on 29 January 2012

Peter starts to explore the Roman Stoics, beginning with Seneca and the Stoic attitude towards the emotions.

12 comments
66 - You Can Chain My Leg: Epictetus

Posted on 5 February 2012

The greatest of the Roman Stoics is Epictetus, arguably the first thinker to discuss the nature of human will, and author of some of the most powerful and demanding ethical writings in history.

22 comments
67 - The Philosopher King: Marcus Aurelius

Posted on 12 February 2012

The life and thought of Marcus Aurelius, Roman Emperor and author of the classic text of Stoic self-examination, the Meditations.

13 comments
68 - John Sellars on the Roman Stoics

Posted on 19 February 2012

Peter chats about Seneca, Marcus Aurelius, and Epictetus with John Sellars, an expert on Roman Stoicism and the reception of Stoicism in the early modern era.

10 comments
69 - Beyond Belief: Pyrrho and Skepticism

Posted on 26 February 2012

Peter turns to the final major Hellenistic school, the Skeptics, beginning with Pyrrho and the question of how ancient skepticism compares to modern skepticism.

5 comments
70 - The Know Nothing Party: the Skeptical Academy

Posted on 4 March 2012

Under Arcesilaus and Carneades, Plato’s Academy took a skeptical turn, casting doubt on the possibility of knowledge. But was their skepticism skeptical enough?

11 comments
71 - Rhetorical Questions: Cicero

Posted on 11 March 2012

Cicero’s philosophical works are invaluable records of Hellenistic thought. But what kind of philosopher was Cicero himself?

7 comments
72 - Raphael Woolf on Cicero

Posted on 18 March 2012

Peter talks to Raphael Woolf about the method and philosophical allegiance of Cicero, focusing on the work On Ends (De Finibus).

3 comments
73 - Healthy Skepticism: Sextus Empiricus

Posted on 25 March 2012

Sextus Empiricus, the last great ancient skeptic, expounds a radical branch of the tradition called Pyrrhonism. Peter raises some doubts about how to interpret him.

2 comments
74 - Tony Long on the Self in Hellenistic Philosophy

Posted on 1 April 2012

Leading Hellenistic philosophy scholar Tony Long talks to Peter about the self, ethics and politics in the Stoics, Epicureans and Skeptics.

9 comments
75 - The Joy of Sects: Ancient Medicine and Philosophy

Posted on 8 April 2012

The ancient relationship between medicine and philosophy culminates in Galen, who passes judgment on the three main “sects”: rationalism, empiricism and methodism.

0 comments
76 - R.J. Hankinson on Galen

Posted on 15 April 2012

Jim Hankinson, a leading expert on philosophical themes in Galen, joins Peter to discuss this greatest doctor of the ancient world.

0 comments