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Unit information: Ancient Philosophy in 2015/16

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Unit name Ancient Philosophy
Unit code PHIL20040
Credit points 20
Level of study I/5
Teaching block(s) Teaching Block 2 (weeks 13 - 24)
Unit director Dr. Pearson
Open unit status Not open




School/department Department of Philosophy
Faculty Faculty of Arts

Description including Unit Aims

In this course we will be looking at two dialogues of Plato: the Republic and the Theaetetus.

The Republic is one of the most famous and influential philosophical texts of all time. We will look at certain key parts of this long text, in particular Thrasymachus’ challenge to justice in book I, the tripartite analysis of the soul in book IV, the discussion of knowledge and opinion in book V, the divided line and cave analogies in books VI-VII, and the rational/non-rational division in book X.

After citing the influence of the Theaetetus on, among others, Bishop Berkeley, Leibniz, Wittgenstein, and contemporary epistemology, Myles Burnyeat comments:

"No other dialogue of Plato’s speaks so directly to the concerns of the working philosopher in modern times. This is the case even when, or especially when, the line of thought is one that would not occur to a modern philosopher. The Theaetetus is not only the first major treatment of the problem of knowledge, a problem which has remained central to philosophy ever since; it is a classic treatment in the full sense of a work to which the philosopher can return time and again to find a challenge or stimulus to reflection."

We will engage in a close reading of the text and expect to be stimulated.

Intended Learning Outcomes

Upon successful completion of this unit students will:

  • have a thorough knowledge of selected dialogues of Plato
  • be familiar with some key secondary literature on these texts, and be able to engage critically with it
  • be able to engage critically with the positions and arguments in these texts
  • be in a position to relate some of the ideas in these texts to modern philosophical debates where appropriate

Teaching Information

11 x 1 hour lecture plus 11 x 1 hour seminar.

Assessment Information

Formative: two 2,000-2500 word essays designed to test the intended learning outcomes.

Summative: one 3-hour unseen exam designed to test the intended learning outcomes.

Reading and References

Course Texts:

The editions/translations that will be used are [please only get these translations!]:

Grube, G. M. A. [revised by C. D. C. Reeve], Plato: Republic, Hackett, 1992

M. Burnyeat, The Theaetetus of Plato, Hackett, 1990

A couple of books on these texts:

Annas, J. An Introduction to Plato’s Republic, 1981

Sedley, D. The Midwife of Platonism, 2004 [on the Theaetetus]