Durham University
Programme and Module Handbook

Postgraduate Programme and Module Handbook 2011-2012 (archived)


Department: Classics and Ancient History


Type Open Level 4 Credits 30 Availability Available in 2011/12 Module Cap None.


  • Some knowledge of Plato, and some work in philosophy at Level 3.


  • None.

Excluded Combination of Modules

  • None.


  • In accordance with the general aims of the MA in Classics, to promote self-motivated and self-directed research in the sub-discipline of ancient philosophy for students who have received appropriate grounding in their undergraduate studies.


  • (1) THE OLD ACADEMY: variations and criticisms of the theory of forms in Plato’s immediate circle:
  • the evidence of his own works: Phaedo (100b); Parmenides (up to 135d); Sophist (246aa ff)
  • background: Prior (2004) for possible roots of forms in Socrates; Gerson (2005) ch. 4 for multiple theories in the Academy; Dillon (1996), (2003) for other theories in the Academy.
  • (2) ARISTOTLE: how does he represent the theory? how does he criticize it? what does he do instead?
  • Metaphysics Z
  • in addition to the obvious: Gerson (2005) ch. 4
  • (3-4) HELLENISTIC ERA: how do Cynics, Stoics, and Epicureans argue against the existence of (things like) forms? what do they place in their stead?
  • cf. Long & Sedley 12; 14B3; 27; 30; 45 (Stoics).
  • how does Antiochus revive the idea of forms in a materialistic physics?
  • Cicero, Academica 1.30; Tusculan Disputations 1.57; Orator 8 ff; Varro, reported at Augustine, City of God 7.28; Dillon (1996), ch. 2;
  • (5-7) THE PLATONIST REVIVAL : how is the need for forms reasserted in the Platonist revival?
  • Alcinous, Didaskalikos chh. 9, 11; Plutarch, On Common Notions [de communibus notitiis] 50. (Cf. [Galen], On Incorporeal Qualities.]
  • do forms rely for their being on some further principle? how do they stand in relation to god? to the sensible world?
  • Philo of Alexandria; Plutarch; Atticus; Numenius
  • (8) LATER STOIC COUNTER-ATTACK: what is the point behind Seneca’s attack on the Platonist doctrine of causality? what sort of doctrine is he attacking?
  • Seneca, Epistles 58; 65

Learning Outcomes

Subject-specific Knowledge:
  • The module builds on previous knowledge of Plato and his theory of 'forms' to show how the theory was criticised and received in later antiquity. By the end of the module, students should have acquired a close familiarity with texts needed for understanding the most significant cases of later engagement with the theory, and be capable of using them to reconstruct the arguments, reflections, and reformulations which the original theory provoked, from Plato’s own day to the mid-third Century AD (the beginning of Neoplatonism).
Subject-specific Skills:
  • Students will need to develop the historical and philosophical skills relevant to the handling of the written evidence for ancient philosophical ideas and debates in general. In particular, they will be asked, on the basis of sometimes rather limited primary evidence, to develop and defend philosophically plausible reconstructions of debates between different schools in antiquity over the role and need for metaphysical entities – especially Platonic 'forms'.
Key Skills:
  • The analytical and interpretative skills required for the successful completion of this module are transferable to any field which demands inference from limited evidence, and a capacity for disinterested reconstruction of other (and sometimes alien) views. It also requires the effective use of library and IT resources; and good written presentation skills.

Modes of Teaching, Learning and Assessment and how these contribute to the learning outcomes of the module

  • Teaching will be by fortnightly seminar, which will be structured around a student presentation on the topic for the week. This will ensure that individuals engage in independent research and thought (viz. on the topics for which they make a presentation), and that they gain practice in articulating their conclusions. The presentation will be followed by a discussion in which there is an onus on everyone to engage in thought about the scope of the evidence and the coherence of the interpretation presented, encouraging critical reflection. The seminars are fortnightly and 2 hours long rather than (e.g.) weekly and one hour sessions in order to allow and encourage significant preparation, and detailed discussion.
  • Students will be encouraged to attend undergraduate lectures in appropriate subjects where available and an appropriate source of relevant material.
  • Formative assessment will be based on essays written up from the seminar presentations - two during the year. Summative assessment will be by one 5,000 word essay to be submitted at the end of the year. These exercises will foster the ability to provide clear and detailed written articulation of philosophical positions and historical reconstruction, provide practice for the use of appropriate conventions and style in setting out written research, and ensure that research and assimilation of secondary literature is carried out at the appropriate level.

Teaching Methods and Learning Hours

Activity Number Frequency Duration Total/Hours
Seminars 8 Fortnightly 2 hours 16
Preparation and Reading 284
Total 300

Summative Assessment

Component: Essay Component Weighting: 100%
Element Length / duration Element Weighting Resit Opportunity
Essay 5000 words 100%

Formative Assessment:

Two essays (one to be submitted in Michaelmas and one in Epiphany Term).

Attendance at all activities marked with this symbol will be monitored. Students who fail to attend these activities, or to complete the summative or formative assessment specified above, will be subject to the procedures defined in the University's General Regulation V, and may be required to leave the University