An Introduction to Ancient Philosophy with Mark Vernon

Dr Mark Vernon|Tuesday 31st January to Tuesday 7th March

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All you need to know about the philosophical schools of Ancient Greece — and how they can help your daily life — on our six week evening course.

Date: Weekly from Tuesday 31st January to Tuesday 7th March 2017

Time: 6:30 – 8pm

Location: The Three Kings, 7 Clerkenwell Close, London EC1R 0DY

General introduction: What was so unsettling about Socrates? Why would you want to be a Stoic? Who was Plotinus, the most influential philosopher you’ve never heard of?

These questions and more are explored in a series of evening classes on ancient and modern philosophy at The Idler Academy.
The aim is to learn not just what different philosophers have argued, but how these rich traditions can resources us, body, mind and soul. On the ancient philosophy course we examine the pre-Socratics, Socrates and Plato, Aristotle, the Stoics, the Epicureans, the Sceptics and the Cynics.

The evenings are taught by Dr Mark Vernon. Previous participants have said: ‘I never spent Sunday afternoons looking forward to Monday until I joined this course!’ ‘It is much better to talk philosophy than to read it.’

Course outline

Week 1. Socrates and the birth of philosophy

Socrates is the seminal figure of western philosophy, but he himself emerged from a tradition already centuries old. In this evening we will consider the thought of individuals from Thales, sometimes called the father of philosophy, to the big hitters such as Pythagoras, Heraclitus and Parmenides, who argued over whether everything is in a state of flux or is, ultimately, one. The surviving texts of these philosophers are fragmentary but we can build up a fascinating picture of their extraordinary takes on the world, ideas that have echoed across the centuries to our own day. Then we’ll comes to Socrates: what are his great insights? Why is he so important?

Week 2. Plato, Aristotle and the flourishing life

Plato was the great pupil of Socrates, and Aristotle was the great pupil of Plato. Together, they set an agenda that still shapes how we engage with the world and ourselves. Plato is influential particularly for his ideas about love and the human psyche. We’ll ask what he thought about politics and spiritual matters too. Aristotle is increasing influential for his work on virtue ethics, an approach to moral philosophy that is gaining wide recognition once more. How to be happy? What does it mean to have a friend? How should we organise society so as to flourish? We will ask these questions and more of Plato and Aristotle.

Week 3. Stoicism and philosophy as therapy

The Stoics offered probably the most successful practical philosophy of life right up to the Christian period – individuals from Cicero to Marcus Aurelius followed them – and even when the new religion arrived, Stoic ideas were imported. Notions about ‘going with the flow’ and ‘keeping a stiff upper lip’ can be traced back to Stoic ideas, and behind them lie a fully developed understanding of the nature of the cosmos. Stoic ideas have been revived again in our times, particularly in the development of CBT. So what did they teach and what relevance does that have for today?

Week 4. Epicurus and the life of pleasure

Hedonism is the philosophy for a consumer age, though Epicurus – the founder in the west of this strand of thought – would have critiqued our way of life severely. Pleasure is the central question for him, but the trick is to enjoy small pleasures rather than become addicted to ever bigger, unsustainable highs and kicks. Epicurus taught in a garden, because he thought that cities were dangerous places to live, and wrote from matters such as friendship, to the atomic nature of matter. He influenced modern thinkers including Karl Marx.

Week 5. The Sceptics and Cynics on rebellion and disbelief

These two groups of philosophers were, in a way, the punk-rockers of the ancient world. The Sceptics, from the ancient Greek for ‘searcher’, argued that it is better to suspend your relentless questioning when answers clearly are not to be found: rest easy with mystery. The Cynics, after the word for ‘dog’ because they were accused of living like dogs, challenged the other philosophers by holding a finger to all social conventions. They were Greece’s equivalent of the Hebrew prophets, calling the powerful, the mighty and the confident to account.

Week 6. Neoplatonism and medieval philosophy

Plato’s academy remained upon until 529, and in its last phase was dominated by the school now know as the neoplatonists. It reinvigorate Plato’s philosophy by focusing on its spiritual and cosmological dimensions. Later neoplatonists incorporated elements of magic an theurgy. This philosophy dominated thought for a thousand years, not least in the medieval period. Boethius’ Consolations of Philosophy was a best-selling for centuries, teaching that a right mind and heart can withstand all the pains of fate. And then came Thomas Aquinas, a monk in the new hippy order of Dominicans, whose interpretation of Aristotle is marked by genuine genius. His insights on the good life, on human psychology and on God, are still important today.
Course Testimonials

‘Mark is a great teacher who helps to bring clarity to some potentially very intimidating subjects.’

‘A great place to think, laugh and learn.’

‘It is much better to be talk philosophy than to read it.’


About the Tutor

Dr Mark Vernon

Dr Mark Vernon is a psychotherapist with a private practice in London, as well as working at the Maudsley Hospital. He is also a writer, broadcaster and teacher. He has a PhD in philosophy, and degrees in theology and physics. His most recent books include – The Idler Guide To Ancient Philosophy (Idler Books), Love: All That Matters (Hodder) and Jung: How To Believe (Guardian Shorts) – and he has books on friendship, belief and the good life too. Mark contributes regularly to publications in the UK, including the Guardian and Church Times, and also broadcasts on the BBC. He began his professional life as a priest in the Church of England. For more visit,



Tuesdays 31st January, 7th, 14th, 21st, 28th February, and 7th March 2017


6:30pm till 8pm


The Three Kings, 7 Clerkenwell Close, London EC1R 0DY


Six weeks


£185.00 for six weeks includes VAT and wine

To Book

Add to basket or call us on 0203 176 7907


A lovely glass of wine on arrival each evening and and Idler Academy Exercise book for your notes.


‘Mark is a great teacher who helps to bring clarity to some potentially very intimidating subjects’.


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