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Group B: Greek and Roman Philosophy

Paper B1: Plato

Course Director: Mr N Denyer

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 2019–20

There will be two sections to the paper. One is on the set text, and will contain questions on the Phaedo, the other will contain questions relating to all the following themes, with reference to dialogues other than the Phaedo: (1) forms and explanation, (2) souls bodies and immortality, (3) learning and philosophical method.

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 2020-21 the set text will be Plato's Theaetetus.

Course descriptions


(12 L: Michaelmas)

The Phaedo is a literary and philosophical classic, portraying Socrates’ final conversation, directly before his execution, as a defence of the soul’s immortality. It contains a series of celebrated but controversial arguments, as well as a myth of the afterlife, and is also a major source for Plato’s Theory of Forms.

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

Greek text, edited by C. Strachan, in vol. 1 of the Oxford Classical Text of Plato (Oxford 1995), or in the edition by C.J. Rowe (Cambridge 1993), which also has a very helpful commentary.

English translation in D. Sedley and A. Long, Plato, Meno and Phaedo (Cambridge 2011), or in D. Gallop, Plato, Phaedo (Oxford 1975). The latter includes an excellent philosophical commentary.

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



(12 L: Lent)

The course will address issues in Plato’s metaphysics, philosophical psychology and epistemology across various dialogues including, for example: Parmenides (first part), Phaedrus, Theaetetus and Timaeus. 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’s World from Turtles to Tragedies

Course Director: Dr M Hatzimichali

Aims and objectives

  1. To introduce Aristotle’s programmatic views on scientific knowledge and examine their philosophical underpinnings, as well as the ways in which they are applied in Aristotle’s own investigations in the seemingly unconnected fields of biology and literature/art.
  2. To encourage students to engage critically with a series of different Aristotelian works, and draw connections and parallels between his handling of diverse subjects.
  3. To encourage students to evaluate and criticise Aristotle’s positions, placing them within the relevant historical, philosophical and cultural context.


Scope and structure of the examination paper

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, but those with Greek will be rewarded for demonstrating appropriate knowledge of the original text.

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

In 2020-21 the scope and structure of the paper will remain unchanged.

Course description


(16 L/8 C: Michaelmas/Lent)

Among the most impressive features of Aristotle’s thought is the sheer range of his interests, from hands-on biological research all the way to aesthetics and literary criticism. It has been observed that Aristotle examines tragedy through the same ‘biological’ lens as animals and plants, perhaps to the detriment of his aesthetic thought, while he also speaks of aesthetic appreciation and pleasure to be had from the study of animals. So is there some unity to this monumental intellectual structure, and if so how are we to understand it? The study of these questions will open up new perspectives into Aristotle’s central philosophical ideas, including his teleology, hylomorphism, and his views on what constitutes scientific knowledge. There will be introductory lectures on key concepts and themes, and the rest of the course will concentrate on the key biological texts and the Poetics. The Classes will offer the opportunity for students to engage more closely with selected passages from the primary texts.

Preparatory reading:

Primary: Aristotle, Parts of Animals Book 1; Generation of Animals Book 1.17 – Book 2.7; History of Animals Book 1.1-6; Poetics.

Secondary: J. Barnes (ed.) The Cambridge Companion to Aristotle. Cambridge 1995. [Chapters 1, 4, 5, 9]; C. Shields, Aristotle. Routledge 2007. [Chapters 3.1-3.3; 10]; J.G. Lennox, ‘Form, essence and explanation in Aristotle’s biology’ and D. Henry, ‘Generation of animals’, both in G. Anagnostopoulos (ed.) A Companion to Aristotle. Oxford (Wiley-Blackwell) 2009: 348-84; G.R.F. Ferrari, ‘Aristotle’s literary aesthetics’, Phronesis 44 (1999): 181-98; A. Ford, ‘The purpose of Aristotle’s Poetics’, Classical Philology 110 (2015): 1-21; S. Halliwell, Aristotle’s Poetics. London 2nd edition 1998.


Paper B3: ‘Philosophy, Politics, and the Polis

Course Director: Prof. J Warren

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 philosophical theories and arguments about the nature and value of human political communities.
  2. To enable students to form a close critical acquaintance with a series of classic philosophical texts.
  3. To encourage students to evaluate sympathetically, and to understand historically, philosophical positions and arguments with which they may well not agree.
  4. To encourage students to develop their own powers of philosophical analysis and argument.


Scope and structure of the examination paper

The examination paper will consist of about twelve essay questions, on topics covered in the course. Candidates will be required to answer three questions.

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

In 2020-21 the scope and structure of the paper will remain unchanged.


Course description


(16 L/C: Michaelmas; 8 L/C: Lent)


Ancient philosophers continue to inform debates in political theory. This course explores some of the major works of the key ancient philosophers on politics. How did the ancients envisage the nature of citizenship, community, justice and freedom? How do different thinkers conceptualize the nature of the state? What is the relationship between the individual and the state? Do ancient thinkers have a robust sense of human freedom and autonomy? What is it to be a citizen or a ‘citizen of the cosmos’? What is a community? To what extent are their views on these issues informed by conceptions of human nature, and the world of which we are a part? How did their views relate to existing contemporary practices?

Whilst Aristotle is sometimes hailed in political discussions today as an inspiration for a communitarian politics, Plato’s notion of a political expertise, and the moral homogeneity sometimes held to be an implication of his theory of forms, is often held up as an example of how philosophers have ushered in the ‘death of the political’. How so? How challenging are such criticisms?

This course, through a mixture of lectures and classes, will look at the ancient philosophers’ accounts of the nature and value of life in a political community from the early Greek philosophers through Plato and Aristotle to the Hellenistic period.

The detailed inspection of these ancient philosophers’ treatments of the nature and value of community promises not only to increase our understanding of the ancients themselves but also offer a useful perspective for modern accounts of the value of community in a modern liberal democracy.  Can ancient philosophical accounts of community show us a way forward for our own attempts to improve communities? How legitimate are recent attempts to use the ancient models as a guide to modern communities? Why might they be thought a useful place to look for grounding answers to modern concerns? And which ancient thinkers and models are prized, and why? How, if at all, do the different models provided by the ancient philosophers provide plausible frameworks for rethinking political life today?

Preparatory reading:

Primary texts: Plato: Gorgias, Republic, Statesman, selections from the Laws; Aristotle Politics; Epicurean and Stoic texts in Long and Sedley The Hellenistic Philosophers (1987) sections 22 and 67; Cicero De Re Publica and De Legibus.

Other: C.J. Rowe and M. Schofield (eds.) The Cambridge History of Greek and Roman Political Thought (2000); S. Salkever ed., The Cambridge Companion to Ancient Greek Political Thought (2009); M. Schofield, The Stoic Idea of the City (1999); G. Klosko (ed.) The Oxford Handbook of the History of Political Philosophy (2011).

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