78000 - Moral Philosophy (1) (LM)

Course Unit Page

Academic Year 2018/2019

Learning outcomes

This course will address topics and texts in moral philosophy at an advanced level. At the end of the course students will be expected to possess the main abilities required from a professional moral philosopher. These include: appraise theories and justify one's own position about them; critically analyzing philosophical texts, both from classical and recent authors; originally elaborate on them; provide fresh points of view and good working hypotheses to address them. Students will have learnt how to pull apart received knowledge in the ethical and meta-ethical field, and to reconstruct it on an original basis. Moreover, they will be expected to show their ability both to write on moral topics in a professional, opinionated, and thorough way, and to effectively communicate their views to an audience.

Course contents


The course explores the origin and vicissitudes of Cynicism, both as a philosophical school (and/or life ideal) and as a moral (or unmoral) attitude. After tracing its origin in ancient Socratic philosophy, we will (partially at least) follow its transformations across a history spanning several centuries. Then, moving on to Early Modern and then to Modern age, we will ask how could the meaning of “cynic” shift, in most European languages, from a highly valued quality to an almost universal expression of contempt. Various hypotheses (particularly Louisa Shea’s and David Mazella’s) about the nature of Cynicism (old and new) will be examined. We will also tentatively locate some antecedent and heir to ancient Cynicism, without speculating about actual historical connections, but rather asking if they might be versions of a fundamental attitude toward society and power that, under different names, runs through most of our history. Particular attention will be devoted to the reception of and elaboration on Cynicism in European early modern thought, 16th to 18th century.



  • Diogenes the Cynic, Sayings and Anecdotes, with Other Popular Moralists, translated with an Introduction and Notes by Robin Hard, Oxford: Oxford UP, 2012. [This useful book contains most of Diogenes Laertius’ Lives of Eminent Philosophers dedicated to the Cynic and Cyrenaic philosophers, plus other ancient sources.]
  • A collection (about 50 pp.) of supplementary Readings, available on campus.unibo.it (search under my name or the course 'Moral Philosophy'). Part I of the readings is semantic/lexical: it includes entries from the OED and other main dictionaries in French, Spanish, and Italian. Part II gathers further primary sources from Late Antiquity to Middle Ages to the Renaissance and Enlightenment. Some excerpts from books referenced in the Optional Readings (below) are included.

The Greek text of Laertius' Lives, which we may occasionally refer to, is freely accessible at http://www.perseus.tufts.edu/hopper/text?doc=Perseus:text:1999.01.0258. The 1925 R. D. Hicks translation, with Greek text, is also freely downloadable from archive.org.


  • Donald Dudley, A History of Cynicism. From Diogenes to the 6th Century A.D., London: Methuen, 1937. [Still a valuable work of scholarship. Freely accessible and downloadable from archive.org.]
  • Louisa Shea, The Cynic Enlightenment. Diogenes in the Salon, Baltimore: Johns Hopkins UP, 2010. [Available to Unibo users as e-book from https://ebookcentral-proquest-com.ezproxy.unibo.it/lib/unibo/detail.action?docID=3318511&query=louisa+shea]
  • David Mazella, The Making of Modern Cynicism, Charlottesville and London: University of Virginia Press, 2007. [Available from the Department of Philosophy Library, via Zamboni 38.]

All of the above readings are mandatory.

  • Non-attending students will be required, beside the above bibliography, to study the collection The Cynics: The Cynic Movement in Antiquity and Its Legacy, ed. by R. Bracht Branham and Marie-Odile Goulet-Cazé, Berkeley-Los Angeles: University of California Press, 1996 [available from the Department of Philosophy Library, via Zamboni 38].



Students who feel the need of a general introduction to the philosophy of the relevant period may refer to The Cambridge History of Hellenistic Philosophy, ed. by K. Algra, J. Barnes et alii, Cambridge UP, 2008 (see esp. Ch. 19, 'The Socratic Legacy', by A.A. Long).

Some optional books that students interested in Cynicism and related topics might find useful for inspiration and/or information in preparing their papers:

-Robert Dobbin, ed., The Cynic Philosophers from Diogenes to Julian, London: Penguin, 2012 [additional primary sources, partially overlapping with Hard's collection].

-Hugh Roberts, Dogs’ Tales: Representations of Ancient Cynicism in French Renaissance Texts, Amsterdam-New York: Rodopi, 2006.

-Peter Sloterdijk, Critique of Cynical Reason, Engl. transl. by Michael Eldred, Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1987. [Original edition Kritik der zynischen Vernunft, Frankfurt a.M.: Suhrkamp, 1983].

-Michel Foucault, The Courage of the Truth. Lectures at the Collège de France, 1983-1984, ed. by F. Gros, Engl. transl. by G. Burchell, Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan, 2011. [Original edition Le courage de la vérité, Paris: Seuil/Gallimard, 2008.]

-Michel Onfray, Cynisme. Portrait du philosophe en chien, Paris: Grasset, 1990 [Italian transl. by S. Atzeni, Cinismo, Milano: Rizzoli, 1992].

Further readings may be provided during class.

Teaching methods

The course will mainly consist of frontal lessons, comments on texts, and teacher-led discussions. Students' comments, reflection, and active participation are encouraged.

Please note that part of the lessons will dwell on texts, so I recommend to get hold of the reading material before the beginning of the course. All of the required readings are translated into English, so no previous knowledge of ancient Greek is required. However, occasional reference to Greek words will be made, as part of the technicalities of the subject matter. I will give semantic explanations as we go along.

Lessons are scheduled to start November 12th, 2018 and go on every Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. in Aula XI, via Zamboni 38, ground floor. There will be 15 lessons of 2 hours each. Please note we will take a break in the 1st week of December, so no class on Monday Dec. 3, Tuesday Dec. 4, Wednesday Dec. 5, unless we need to catch up with hours lost due to contingencies. Last class will be Wed., December 19th.

Assessment methods

Attending students (i.e. attending no less than 12 lessons) will submit a final paper of no less than 5000 words, which will be graded on a 30/30 scale. I will provide a list of topics, but please feel free to devise a topic of your own, provided it centrally involves one or more of the main issues raised in the course. Argumentative papers are recommended, but students coming from other fields than philosophy may suggest different kinds of treatment (e.g. literary, historical, etc.).

Papers should be in by a date that will be announced during the course, approximately 5 weeks after end of the class. They will be written in English. Allowance will be made for the difficulties of students whose first language is not English, but I expect all students to make sure their writing is reasonably correct.

Papers will then be individually discussed with the teacher and this discussion may result in improvement of the final marks.

Unlike other countries, in Italy you may take an exam without attending the course. You will be considered non-attending if you miss more than 3 classes. Non-attending students will only take a viva voce exam, based on the extra-bibliography as indicated in the Readings/Bibliography section. The viva test will consist in expounding, first, a topic of your choice among the course contents (please be prepared to speak approx. 10 min.; you may use notes and sources as you speak). Then I will ask you a few questions about the course topics.

Criteria for the paper’s assessment and components of the final grade:

1. Comprehension of the examined texts (knowledge of their content, ability to gather the most relevant information and the meaning): from 8 to 11/30.

2. Correctness of writing (spelling, syntax, punctuation, style, command of the philosophical and general vocabulary): from 3 to 6/30.

3. Clarity, thematic pertinence, breadth and structure of the exposition (ability to vehicle thoughts in a complete and clear way, and to stick to the topic): from 3 to 5/30.

4. Logical consistency, quality and cogency of the argument: from 3 to 5/30.

5. Originality of ideas and personal reflection (grasping the critical points of the texts, formulating objections, developing the ideas present in the texts): from 2 to 4/30;

6. Participation in class discussions: from 0 to 2/30.

The assessment of the viva test will be approximately along the same lines, mutatis mutandis.

Teaching tools

I will make use of slides, particularly in connection with some iconographic details of the topic. Slides will be made available on a weekly basis.

Depending on the number of participants, a course-related page on the Unibo e-learning platform (https://elearning-cds.unibo.it) might be activated. The webpage would feature a discussion forum, event calendar, study topics and tools, and could be used for teacher-students communication and the distribution of homework.

However, if the number is small, these things might be more easily dispatched via e-mail.

Office hours

See the website of Roberto Brigati