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Platonic ethics is theme of Cornell's Townsend Lectures series

Julia E. Annas, Regents Professor of Philosophy at the University of Arizona, will explore Plato's contribution to ethical thought, the different interpretations of his work from antiquity to the present and the enduring interest in his moral philosophy in this year's Townsend Lectures in Classics, presented by the Cornell University Department of Classics.

Titled "Platonic Ethics, Old and New," the lecture series is free and open to the public and begins Feb. 11 in Cornell's Goldwin Smith Hall. Annas will give seven Tuesday lectures starting at 4:30 p.m., with the first lecture in Goldwin Smith's Hollis E. Cornell Auditorium and the others in Goldwin Smith Room 142.

The dates and topics of each lecture are as follows:

  • Feb. 11: Many Voices: Dialogue and Development in Plato
  • (reception to follow in the Andrew Dickson White House)
  • Feb. 18: Transforming Your Life: Virtue and Happiness
  • Feb. 25: Becoming Like God: Ethics, Human Nature and the Divine
  • March 4: The Inner City: Ethics Without Politics in the Republic
  • March 11: What Use Is the Form of the Good? Ethics and Metaphysics in Plato
  • March 25: Humans and Beasts: Moral Theory and Moral Psychology
  • April 1: Elemental Pleasures: Enjoyment and the Good in Plato

Annas will begin her lectures by looking at how ancient interpretations of Plato can offer new perspectives on his works and can illuminate alternatives to the standard ways of reading them. Her lectures will focus on Plato's ethics and the contrasts between ancient and modern understandings of his ethical thought, especially with regard to The Republic and its place in Plato's thinking.

A native of Great Britain, Annas received her bachelor's degree in classics from Oxford University and her master's and doctoral degrees in classics and philosophy from Harvard University. She was a Fellow and Tutor of St. Hugh's College in Oxford from 1971 to 1986 and has taught at the University of Arizona since 1986; she also has been a visiting professor at several other universities in the United States and elsewhere.

Her books include An Introduction to Plato's Republic (1981); Hellenistic Philosophy of Mind (1992); and The Morality of Happiness (1993). She is a founding editor of the Oxford Studies in Ancient Philosophy and coeditor of the Oxford Aristotle Series and serves on the consulting board of The Encyclopaedia of Ethics and the editorial board of Polis.

Annas said she welcomes the opportunity to interact with Cornell's classics and philosophy communities.

"Cornell is well known for ancient philosophy," she said. "In putting forward these ideas, I would hope to get the benefits of friendly criticism. I'm also welcoming the opportunity to give lectures in a classics, rather than a philosophy, department."

As in the past, Townsend Lecturers conduct a graduate seminar during their Cornell stay, and this semester Annas is leading a seminar on Plato for classics and philosophy students. Also in keeping with tradition, her Townsend Lectures will be published by Cornell University Press for the series Cornell Studies in Classical Philology.

The Townsend Lectures were established in 1985 by the Department of Classics with a bequest from the late Daphne Townsend, a longtime benefactor of Cornell and the department, in memory of her late husband, Prescott Townsend, Cornell class of 1916.

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