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Level 4

4AACAP01 Introduction to Ancient Philosophy

Credit value: 30
Module convenor/tutor 2018/9: Dr Shaul Tor (Semester 1) and Professor Michael Trapp (Semester 2)
Module convenor 2019/20: Dr Katharine O'Reilly (Semester 1) & Professor Michael Trapp (Semester 2)
Teaching pattern 2019/20: 20 x 2-hour lecture & 20 x 1-houe seminar (weekly) 
Availability: Please see module list for relevant year

Assessment: 2 x essay of 2,000 words (60%, based on the higher of the two marks; failure to submit 2 essays will be penalized by capping essay component of module mark at 40%); 1 x 2-hour examination (40%)

Students are reassessed in the failed elements of assessment and by the same methods as the first attempt.

Assessment pattern for Graduate Diploma students

Assessment: 4 x 2,000 word essays (100%, the two highest scoring essays will contribute 50% each to the final mark; students must submit 4 essays, and those who fail to do so will have the overall mark for this module capped at 40)

Students are reassessed in the failed elements of assessment and by the same methods as the first attempt.

The modules offered in each academic year are subject to change in line with staff availability and student demand: there is no guarantee every module will run. Module descriptions and information may vary between years.

This module offers an introduction to some of the most exciting, important and seminal thinkers and texts in Greek and Roman philosophy. In Semester 1, we will first explore such pioneering presocratic philosophers as Thales, Anaximander, Xenophanes, Heraclitus and Parmenides and then proceed to the towering figures of Socrates and Plato. In Semester 2, we will turn to Aristotle and to the major schools of the Hellenistic era: the Stoics, Epicureans, Cynics and Sceptics.

The module thus introduces students to central periods and milestones in the development of Greek and Roman philosophy, to some of the most fascinating and enduringly influential philosophical works in the history of Western thought and to a rich diversity of ancient philosophical inquiries, including ethics, politics, cosmology, theology, ontology and epistemology.

Students will learn to apply a range of critical perspectives and methods to ancient philosophical texts. In the process, they will acquire methodological tools which will both enable them to pursue further independent study of such texts and prepare them for the ancient philosophy papers in more advanced stages of their degree programme.

Provisional teaching plan

Semester 1

    1. The Milesians: Thales, Anaximander, Anaximenes
    2. Xenophanes: gods, humans & philosophical inquiry
    3. Heraclitus: riddles, paradoxes & the unity of opposites
    4. Parmenides: the mysteries of being & not-being
    5. Zeno: the paradoxes of space, time and motion
    6. Socrates in Plato’s Apology: philosophy as conversation & philosophy to the death
    7. Socrates in Plato’s Euthyphro: what is piety?
    8. Plato: Meno: virtue, paradox & recollection
    9. Plato: Republic: justice, politics & the tripartite soul
    10. Plato: Republic: Philosopher Kings & the images of Sun, Line & Cave

Semester 2

    1. Aristotle: Nicomachean Ethics: the choice of lives
    2. Aristotle: Nicomachean Ethics: virtue as the mean
    3. Aristotle: Politics: man is a political animal
    4. Aristotle: Politics: slavery
    5. Aristotle: theology & the Unmoved Mover (esp. Metaphysics, book Lambda)
    6. Stoics: virtue & happiness
    7. Stoics: god, fire & fate
    8. Epicureans: pleasure & happiness
    9. Epicureans: atoms & void
    10. Sceptics: a life without beliefs?

Suggested introductory reading

This is suggested reading and purchase of these books is not mandatory.

Whatever and however much you read in advance of the module will be helpful. A good starting point is Annas (2000). An excellent preparation will be to start reading some Platonic dialogues (e.g. Apology, Euthyphro). Cooper (1997) offers good and accessible translations, and is available as an electronic resource on the King's network.

  • J. Annas, Ancient Philosophy: A Very Short Introduction (Oxford, 2000).
  • D.N. Sedley (ed.), The Cambridge Companion to Greek and Roman Philosophy (Cambridge, 2003).
  • G.S. Kirk, J.E. Raven and M. Schofield, The Presocratic Philosophers2 (Cambridge, 1983).
  • J. Warren, Presocratics (Stockfield, 2007).
  • A.A. Long (ed.), The Cambridge Companion to Early Greek Philosophy (Cambridge, 1999).
  • J. M. Cooper (ed.), Plato: Complete Works (Cambridge, 1997).
  • S. Ahbel-Rappe and R. Kamtekar, A Companion to Socrates (Oxford, 2006).
  • D. Scott, Plato’s Meno (Cambridge, 2006).
  • J. Annas, An Introduction to Plato’s Republic (NY, 1981).
  • G. Fine (ed.), The Oxford Handbook of Plato (Oxford, 2008).
  • S. Broadie and C. Rowe (edition, translation and commentary), Aristotle: Nicomachean Ethics (Oxford 2002).
  • P.L.P. Simpson, A philosophical commentary on the Politics of Aristotle (Chapel Hill, 1998).
  • G. Anagnostopoulos (ed.), A Companion to Aristotle (Oxford, 2009).
  • A.A. Long and D.N. Sedley, The Hellenistic Philosophers (Cambridge, 1987).
  • R. Sharples, Stoics, Epicureans and Sceptics: An Introduction to Hellenistic Philosophy (London, 1996).
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