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Level 5

5AACTL29 Greeks on Being Good (and Evil)

Credit value: 15
Module convenor/tutor: Professor Michael Trapp
Teaching pattern: 10 x 2-hour seminar (weekly)
Availability: Please see module list for relevant year
Assessment: 1 x 2-hour exam (50%); 1 x essay of 2,000 words (50%)

Assessment pattern for Graduate Diploma students

Assessment: 2 x 2,000-word essays (100%, essays worth 50% each)

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.

The aim of this course is to give insight into the range of Greek and Roman thinking about right action, good and bad states of character, and the good (fulfilled) life, from the 5th century BCE to the second CE, closely based on a manageable range of primary texts.  It will challenge students not only to understand the individual sets of ideas studied separately, but also to appreciate the differences of emphasis and approach between them, and to reflect on their similarity to and difference from their own thinking about ethical topics.  Special attention will be given to the ways in which ancient ethical thinking draws its connections between the individual and the larger structures of which s/he is a part.

Provisional teaching plan

  1. Nature and culture: the fifth-century beginnings of reflective ethics
  2. Fifth-century ethics, and Socrates
  3. Plato I: the well-ordered soul
  4. Plato II: the well-ordered soul and the good community
  5. Aristotle I: moderating the emotions
  6. Aristotle II: styles of life
  7. Stoics I: a new map of the emotions
  8. Stoics II: a new plan of the universe
  9. Epicureans I: a (different) new map of the universe
  10. Epicureans II: prescriptions for life

Suggested introductory reading

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

  • T. Irwin,  Classical Thought  (OUP 1989), pp. 1-81
  • J. Cottingham, Philosophy and the Good Life. Reason and the passions in Greek, Cartesian and psychoanalytic ethics (CUP 1998)
  • W. Jordan,  Ancient Concepts of Philosophy  (RKP 1990)
  • W. Prior,  Virtue and Knowledge  (RKP 1990)
  • C. Rowe,  An Introduction to Greek Ethics  (Hutchinson 1976)
  • J. Urmson,  The Greek Philosophical Vocabulary  (Duckworth 1990)
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