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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 2021–22

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 2022-23 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 eqully 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)

The course will address issues in Plato’s metaphysics and epistemology across various dialogues including, for example: Parmenides (first part), Republic, Sophist 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 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

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 2022-23 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 undertaking 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: ‘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 2022-23 this paper will be replaced by a new paper entitled 'Greek and Roman philosophers on Beauty'.


Course description


(16 L: Michaelmas)


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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