Monday: Cities and Human Flourishing
How does the design of a city influence the lives of its citizens? How might living in a city improve our chances to live full and happy lives? What special challenges come with living together in cities? What does it mean to be a citizen of a particular city or country?
- Charles Montgomery, Happy City: Transforming our Lives through Urban Design (New York, 2013), chapters 1-2
- Aristotle, Politics, selections on citizenship from book 3
Tuesday: The Common Good and Freedom
Today we compare two ancient Greek cities, Sparta and Athens. Sparta was famous for the discipline and public-spirit of its citizens, while Athens viewed itself as a standard-bearer for freedom. Consider how the Spartan emphasis on the common good that appears in Plutarch’s description differs from the Athenian emphasis on freedom in Pericles’s speech to the Athenians. How did the Spartans produce public-spiritedness in their children? Was the Spartan educational system compatible with freedom? What were the strengths and weaknesses of the Athenian way of life? Which city would you rather live in?
- Pericles’s “Funeral Oration” in Thucydides, History of the Peloponnesian War
- Plutarch, “Life of Lycurgus” in Greek Lives, trans. Robin Waterfield (Oxford, 1998), selections
Wednesday: Questioning the City’s Norms
Socrates, the most famous philosopher of ancient Greece, was brought to trial as an old man on charges of failing to believe in the city’s gods and of corrupting the youth. Plato offers us a version of the speech Socrates gave in his own defense at his trial – where he was sentenced to death for his crimes. Why did the Athenian jury convict Socrates? Can asking philosophical questions in the way that Socrates did really be dangerous to the city? Why or why not?
- Plato, The Apology of Socrates
Thursday: Law and Justice (I)
If you were in jail on death row for violating a law that you knew to be unjust, and a friend offered to sneak you out – would you escape? Socrates refused to escape in that situation. Why?
Thousands of years later, Martin Luther King, Jr. wrote a famous letter from jail arguing that it was acceptable to break the law of the land if that law was unjust and if one was ready to accept the punishment. King referred to Socrates three times in that letter. How was his position similar to Socrates’s, and how was it different?
- Plato, Crito
- Martin Luther King, Jr., “Letter from a Birmingham Jail”
Friday: Law and Justice (II)
Sophocles’s great tragic play explores what happens when a young woman insists on burying her brother’s body, even after the king and law of the land forbid her to do so. Antigone claims she is obeying a higher law. Does she act justly? What would you have done in her place?
- Sophocles, Antigone