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Level 6

6AACTL76: Ideas of Power and the Power of Ideas: Ancient Political Philosophy I

Credit value: 15
Module convenor 2019/20: Dr Katharine O'Reilly
Teaching pattern: 10 x 2-hour lecture (weekly)
Availability: Please see module list for relevant year
Assessment 2019/20: 1 x 3,000 word essay (100%)

Assessment patterns pre-2019/20 

Undergraduate: 1 x 3 hour exam (100%)

Graduate Diploma: 2 x 2,000 word essays (50% each)

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.

How should power be understood and distributed within a city or a state? Is there a place in politics for truths, wisdom and expertise? What is the nature and what are the attractions and the pitfalls of democracy and of civic freedom? How do political theory and political practice relate to one another?

In this module, we will explore these and such questions in relation to some of the most fascinating and enduringly influential texts, thinkers and ideas in the history of Western thought. We will devote the lion’s share of our time to an in-depth study of the political theory of Plato’s Republic, exploring such themes as civic poetry and education; gender, eugenics and the family unit; wealth and power; the connections between flawed constitutions and flawed souls, as well as, of course, Plato’s idea of Philosopher Kings and his critique of democracy. We will also, however, situate Plato’s reflections in a broader tradition and explore key aspects of political thought in earlier poets (such as Homer and Solon), historians (such as Thucydides) and sophists (such as Protagoras), as well as in the Platonic Seventh Letter. Finally, we will examine some of the notable modern responses to Plato’s political philosophy (such as the famous polemic of Karl Popper and other 20th and 21st century reactions to the Republic).

Suggested introductory reading

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

The best preparation for this module would be to read in advance Plato’s Republic in translation. Whatever and however much else of the other suggested readings you are able to read in advance would be helpful.

  • Plato, Republic (recommended translation: G.MA. Grube, revised by C.D.C. Reeve, in J. M. Cooper (ed.) (1997), Plato: Complete Works. Cambridge, 971-1223)
  • Balot, R.K. (ed.) (2009), A Companion to Greek and Roman Political Thought. Malden.
  • Ferrari, G.R.F. (ed.) (2007), The Cambridge Companion to Plato’s Republic. Cambridge.
  • Gagarin, M. and Woodruff, P. (eds), Early Greek Political Thought from Homer to the Sophists. Cambridge.
  • Rowe, C., and Schofield, M. (2000), The Cambridge History of Greek and Roman Political Thought. Cambridge.
  • Salkever, S. (ed.) (2009), The Cambridge Companion to Ancient Greek Political Thought. Cambridge.
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