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Level 6

6AANA014 Hellenistic Philosophy


Credit value: 15
Module tutor: Professor Raphael Woolf 


  • Summative assessment: 1 x 3,000 word essay (100%)
  • Formative assessment: 1 x 2,500 word essay


  • Summative assessment: 2 x 2,500 word essays (50% each)
  • Formative assessment: 1 x 2,500 word essay

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

Teaching pattern: one two-hour weekly combined lecture and seminar over ten weeks. 
Pre-requisites: some background in the study of Plato and Aristotle is a prerequisite for this module (4AANA001 Greek Philosophy I or equivalent).

The Hellenistic period of philosophy begins with the founding of the Stoic, Epicurean and Sceptical schools around the time of Aristotle, and extends to the late antique period. These three schools developed some of the most interesting ideas to be found in ancient philosophy, for instance the determinism of the Stoics, the atomism and hedonism of the Epicureans, and of course the sceptical approach initiated by Pyrrho, which culminated in the work of Sextus Empiricus. Hellenistic philosophy reacts to earlier Greek thought – the Presocratics, Plato and Aristotle – but is in many ways a new beginning for ancient philosophy. This course will introduce some of the principal themes of the Stoics, Epicureans and Sceptics, considering each philosophical school in its own right, as well as some ways they influenced and criticised one another. 

Indicative list of topics:

  • Stoic Physics
  • Stoic Ethics
  • Epicurean Physics
  • Epicurean Ethics
  • Hellenistic Epistemology
  • Scepticism as a Way of Life

Further information

Module Aims
Learning Outcomes
Past Syllabi
Indicative Reading List

Module aims

In this module students will learn:

  • The main principles of the Stoic and Epicurean schools. Attention will be given to both the physical theories of these schools and their ethical doctrines.

  • How these schools and other ‘dogmatic’ philosophical ideas were attacked by the Sceptics.

  • The way that Stoic theories responded to the Sceptical attack.

  • The challenges that face the Sceptical attitude: is it possible to live as a thoroughgoing sceptic, and what exactly did the Sceptics mean by scepticism?

Learning outcomes

By the end of the module, the students will be able to demonstrate intellectual, transferable and practicable skills appropriate to a Level 6 module and in particular will be able to demonstrate:

  • The ability to read texts in the history of philosophy with sympathy and care.
  • The ability to assess and criticize views put forward in such texts, without resorting to anachronism.
  • An understanding of how philosophical views develop in response to criticism.
  • An understanding of the challenges of working with philosophical theories on the basis of testimony and fragments rather than complete works.

Past syllabi

Please note that module syllabus and topics covered may vary from year to year. 

Indicative reading list

  • A.A. Long and D.N. Sedley, The Hellenistic Philosophers, Vol.1 (Cambridge, 1987)

  • R. Sharples, Stoics, Epicureans and Sceptics (Routledge, 1996)

  • B. Inwood (ed.), The Cambridge Companion to the Stoics (Cambridge 2003)

  • T. Brennan, The Stoic Life (Oxford 2005)

  • J. Warren (ed.), The Cambridge Companion to Epicureanism (Cambridge 2009) K. Algra (ed.), The Cambridge History of Hellenistic Philosophy (Cambridge 1999)

  • R. Bett (ed.), The Cambridge Companion to Ancient Scepticism (Cambridge 2010)

  • M.F. Burnyeat (ed.), The Skeptical Tradition (Berkeley, 1983)

  • M. Burnyeat and M. Frede (eds.), The Original Sceptics (Indianapolis 1998)

  • G. Striker, Essays on Hellenistic Epistemology and Ethics (Cambridge 1996)

Blank space

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

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