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Paper B1: Plato

Course Director: Dr M Hatzimichali

Aims and objectives

(This course is intended to be accessible to all students who have taken either Classical Tripos Part I, Paper 8, or the Plato element of Philosophy Tripos Part IB Paper 4, whether or not they know Greek.)

  1. To give an understanding of the way Plato’s thought develops from his middle-period to his later dialogues, particularly in metaphysics and epistemology and in his conceptions of philosophical method.
  2. To give a detailed understanding, through close study of a prescribed dialogue, of (i) some particular area or areas of Plato’s philosophy; (ii) Plato’s conception or conceptions of philosophical method as evidenced by the prescribed work; (iii) his use or uses of the dialogue form.
  3. To encourage students both to deepen their knowledge of Plato’s writings and to engage in sustained critical dialogue with them.
  4. To encourage students to be alert, not only to interconnections between Plato’s ideas, but also to their intellectual context.
  5. To encourage students to develop their own powers of philosophical analysis and argument.


Scope and structure of the examination paper 2022–23

There will be two sections to the paper. Section A will contain questions on the set text, which is the Theaetetus.

Section B will contain questions on the following topics as pursued in Platonic dialogues other than the Theaetetus, notably the Republic, the Parmenides Part I, the Sophist, and the Timaeus.

  1. Sophistry, philosophy, dialectic
  2. Knowledge, forms and explanation
  3. Falsehood
  4. Becoming like god

Candidates will be required to answer three questions, at least one from each section.

The questions will be so formulated as to be answerable without knowledge of Greek, but those with Greek will be rewarded for demonstrating appropriate knowledge of the original text.

(Supervisions for this course are not centrally organized. Your director of studies will arrange for a supervisor. A typical supervision pattern is: two on the set text, two on topics from section b, and one revision session probably focused on the set text.)

In 2023-24 the scope and structure of the examination paper will remain unchanged.


Course descriptions


(8 L: Lent)

What is knowledge? If anything goes, and all opinions are equally true, what about the opinion that not all opinions are equally true?  You can’t touch what isn’t there; so how can you believe in something that isn’t real? These are among the questions that Socrates and his interlocutors debate in this literary and philosophical classic.

Read the text in advance, and bring a copy to the lectures. Recommended:

Greek text, in vol. 1 of the Oxford Classical Text of Plato, edited by E.A. Duke and others (Oxford 1995).


Burnyeat, M.F. (1980), The Theaetetus of Plato (translation preceded by comprehensive introduction)

McDowell, J., (1973) Plato’s Theaetetus, Oxford: The Clarendon Plato Series (translation with full commentary)

 Further reading, and analytic handouts, will be provided at the lectures.



(12 L: Michaelmas)

This course traces central questions in Plato’s metaphysics and epistemology, which are intricately bound up with his ethics and politics, as knowledge of the highest metaphysical principles is the main qualification for ruling in the Republic. We will examine the Theory of Forms of the ‘middle period’ dialogues, asking also how the philosopher comes to know them. We will then see how Plato himself raises puzzles that are potentially very damaging to his own theory in the Parmenides. Finally, we will explore the new metaphysical avenues that are opened up in the Timaeus and Sophist, with the introduction of a creator-god and the ever-combining Greatest Kinds respectively. We will be asking about the extent to which these dialogues can be read as responding to puzzles about the Theory of Forms, and also about how they relate to the Theaetetus set text.

Use the OCT for the Greek text; good translations of all the dialogues are available in the one-volume edition edited by J. Cooper, Plato, Complete Works (Hackett 1997). Suitable preparatory reading includes G. Fine (ed.), The Oxford Handbook of Plato (2008), esp. chapters 1-3, 7-10, 16-19. Further reading will be supplied at the lectures.


Paper B2: Aristotle on soul and body

Course Director: Prof. G Betegh

Aims and objectives

(This course is intended to be accessible to all Part II students in the Classics Tripos and the Philosophy Tripos, regardless of their knowledge of Greek, and regardless of what other papers they have taken in Part IB or are taking in Part II.)

  1. To provide a deeper understanding of Aristotle’s key ideas in philosophical psychology, philosophy of mind, metaphysics, epistemology, and philosophy of action through a close study of the De Anima and selections from related texts.
  2. To enable students to identify and analyse connections and themes across Aristotle's oeuvre.
  3. To enable students to reconstruct and critically engage with Aristotle's arguments.
  4. To encourage students to view Aristotle's theories in their historical context and make connections with current topics in philosophy.
  5. To encourage students through class discussions to develop their skills in formulating philosophical positions and arguments.


Scope and structure of the examination paper 2022-23

The three-hour paper will contain twelve to fifteen essay questions on the topics covered in lectures, classes and supervisions. Candidates will be required to answer any three questions.

The questions will be so formulated as to be answerable without knowledge of Greek.

(Supervisions for this course will be centrally organised for students taking the classical tripos whose directors of studies consent to the arrangement.)

In 2023-24 the scope and structure of the examination paper will remain unchanged.


Course description


(16 L: Michaelmas; 8 L: Lent)

At the beginning of the De Anima, Aristotle duly warns his readers and students that acquiring knowledge about the soul is one of the most daunting intellectual endeavours. He adds however that it is also one of the most important and rewarding undertakings for anyone who wants to understand the world. This is so not only because living beings, from plants through animals to gods, are the most interesting and intriguing things in nature, but also because it is through studying the soul – what it is, how it is related to the body, and what its capacities are – that we can learn the most about ourselves as human beings. It is through such a study that we can understand what it is to have an emotion, what happens when we perceive or think about something, what the role of desire is in our actions, and what it is that links us to other living beings from plants to gods.

To tackle this formidable task, Aristotle seeks out what he can learn from the theories of his predecessors, and mobilises central elements of his philosophical toolbox, involving, among others, the form-matter analysis, his theory of causes and account of change. At the same time, his philosophical psychology has important ramifications for his theory of action, moral psychology and ethics, including the specification of the ultimate goal of human life. The results of the De Anima, including Aristotle’s attempted solution to the ‘mind-body problem’ and his account of perception, have stimulated lively controversies and continue to attract attention among specialists in both ancient philosophy and modern philosophy of mind.

For these reasons, an in-depth study of the De Anima, together with a selection of related texts, offers a unique opportunity to get a deeper understanding of major strands of Aristotle’s thought from metaphysics to ethics. The course moreover takes up central themes from the 1B set text (Phaedo), and compares the Platonic and Aristotelian positions on philosophical psychology, the soul-body relationship, cognition, and moral psychology.

Preparatory readings:

Primary texts: Aristotle, De anima; Categories 1-5; Physics 2.1-7; Part of Animals 1.1; Metaphysics 9 (selections); On the Movement of Animals ch. 6-11; Nicomachean Ethics (selections); Rhetoric (selections from 2.1-11); Metaphysics 12 (selection).

Recommended editions (with commentary) of the De Anima: Förster, Aurelius, 1912, Aristotelis De Anima Libri III, Budapest: Academiae Litterarum Hungaricae.

Ross, W. D. (ed.), 1956, Aristotelis: De Anima (Oxford Classical Texts), Oxford: Clarendon Press.

Ross, W. D. (ed.), 1961, Aristotle, De anima, edited, with introduction and commentary, Oxford: Clarendon Press.

Hicks, Robert Drew, 1907, Aristotle, De anima, with translation, introduction, and notes, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Recommended translations:

Hamlyn, D. W., 1993 (2nd edition), Aristotle De anima, Books II and III (with passages from Book I), translated with Introduction and Notes by D.W. Hamlyn, with a Report on Recent Work and a Revised Bibliography by Christopher Shields, Oxford: Clarendon Press.

Shields, Christopher, 2016, Aristotle’s De Anima, translated with commentary, Oxford: Clarendon Press.

Broadie, S. and Rowe, C. 2002, Aristotle. Nicomachean Ethics. Oxford.


Paper B3: Greek and Roman Philosophers on Beauty

Course Director: Dr F Sheffield

Aims and objectives

(This course is intended to be accessible to all Part II students, whether in the Classics or in the Philosophy Faculty, regardless of their knowledge of Greek and Latin, and regardless of what other papers they have taken in Part IB or are taking in Part II.)

  1. To provide an understanding of ancient Greek and Roman philosophical theories and arguments about the nature and value of beauty, and to explore the ways in which such theories are applied in their philosophies beyond the narrowly 'aesthetic'.
  2. To enable students to engage critically with a series of central philosophical works, to draw connections and contrasts between their diverse treatment of beauty and to consider how this is informed by more fundamental philosophical differences between various schools of thought.
  3. To encourage students to evaluate critically, and understand historically, various accounts of beauty.
  4. To encourage students to develop their facility with philosophical analysis and argument.


Scope and structure of the examination paper

The three-hour paper will contain twelve to fifteen essay questions on topics covered in lectures, classes and supervisions. Candidates are required to answer three questions.

Questions will be formulated so as to be answerable without knowledge of Greek or Latin.

(Supervisions for this course are not centrally organised. Your Directors of Studies will arrange for a supervisor.)

In 2023-24 the scope and structure of the examination paper will remain unchanged.


Course description


DR F SHEFFIELD (12 L: Michaelmas)
PROF. J WARREN (6 L: Lent)


Beauty can be seen in persons, objects, ideas, nature, and even in propositions and proofs; but what is beauty? The nature of beauty is a central question for many Greek and Roman philosophers. The concept of beauty is not only fundamental to what we would call ‘aesthetics’, but was also seen as a more wide ranging and fundamental value, alongside goodness and truth. Its nature, however, was (and still is) contested. Is beauty a real, objective, property, or is it merely in the eye of the beholder?

Is the description of such diverse items as beautiful just a loose association, or is there some single property that such various things display? Are judgements of beauty merely the expression of an approving attitude, or can they be subject to rational reflection and development? What state of mind does the judgement of something as beautiful express? What reasons are given by those philosophers who defend a realist approach to beauty, or to those who think beauty is a subjective psychological response, or a matter of social convention? If beauty is not an objective reality, is there any rational basis for our judgments of beauty? Can one person’s judgement be better than another’s, or improve over time? Why are human beings so responsive to beauty and why does it matter to us? For many thinkers beauty is a fundamental value, though it is less clear what sort of value it is. Beauty is sometimes associated with goodness and truth, but this becomes questionable if the allure of beauty is misleading. If beauty is related to a thing’s appearance, can we be sure that it will lead to being and truth?

In this course we shall explore the answers given to these and other questions by a range of Greek and Roman philosophers. The course will explore theories of beauty including those in art, but go beyond what we now call ‘aesthetics’ to accommodate the range of items philosophers considered in their reflections on beauty, including the beauty of virtuous action, wisdom, mathematics, and even the cosmos itself. No prior knowledge of Greek or Roman philosophy, or Latin and Greek, is required to take this paper.

 Introductory Reading

Brand, P.Z., (2000), “Introduction” in Beauty Matters, ed. Brand, P.Z., pp. 1-24

Kirwan, J., (1999) Beauty (Manchester)

Konstan, D., (2014), Beauty: The Fortunes of an Ancient Greek Idea (Oxford)

Scruton, R., (2009), Beauty (Oxford)

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