Ancient Philosophy: A Very Short Introduction by Julia Annas

This book has a very simple aim to introduce the reader to the very rich subject of Ancient Philosophy.  The author decides to do it not by giving the standard chronological account of tradition but giving the reader the important and revealing features of ancient philosophy.

I really enjoyed the Introduction of the book because the author gives a short summary of the ancient philosophers and lays out the aims of the book and each chapter clearly.  She explains the reasons she wrote the book the way she did and this takes away any guesswork going into the chapters and leaves you to just enjoy.

The author begins by introducing the reader to a subject in ancient philosophy that the modern reader can engage in without knowing too much (or anything at all) about ancient philosophy and that is, understanding the conflict of reason and emotion within ourselves.  The aim here is to show how central argument is to ancient philosophy and also the practical engagement with issues important to our lives.  The first chapter sucks you into the heart of an argument and you find yourself (me included here) trying to reason out things for yourself and to see how it effects your life, and this is exactly what the author was aiming for.

In the second chapter she focuses on issues that distance us from the ancient philosophers; things like loss of evidence and the influence of other factors, like who translates the works and why and in what historical context are they read, that we should be aware of.  For this explanation the author uses Plato’s Republic as an example.  It certainly was an eye-opening chapter.

The next two chapters the author shows how we can understand and engage with the different views of the ancient philosophers on ethics and knowledge.  These two chapters combined have really given me a lot of food for thought and has opened my eyes to a whole new “world” that must be explored if I want to talk about ethics and develop my own.

Chapter five focuses on whether these are purposes in nature or not and if there are purposes, what are they?

The final chapter discusses what (if anything) unites the ancient philosophical tradition.  This chapter really puts into perspective (both historically and modernly) ancient philosophy.  It was a great ending for a great book.

For anyone who is relatively new to ancient philosophy (like me) it is best to start with the timeline provided by the author on pages 113-114 then go on to reading the chapters.

The further reading section at the end is also a gold mine for people who want to continue with their studies in this field and don’t know where to start.

This book has helped me think seriously about ethics, how they were thought of (generally) in ancient times and in modern times and how to start looking into ethics as a subject matter.  It seems to me from reading this book that it is best to start with the ancient philosophers and then moving forward to modern ones.


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