Durham University
Programme and Module Handbook

Postgraduate Programme and Module Handbook 2019-2020 (archived)

Module CLAS43530: Aristotle's Systems

Department: Classics and Ancient History

CLAS43530: Aristotle's Systems

Type Open Level 4 Credits 30 Availability Available in 2019/20 Module Cap None.


  • None


  • None

Excluded Combination of Modules

  • None


  • In accordance with the general aims of the MA in Ancient Philosophy and the MA in Classics, to promote self-motivated and self-directed research in the field of Aristotle studies, for students who have received appropriate grounding in their undergraduate studies.


  • This module approaches Aristotle’s philosophy from a holistic perspective. It seeks to present and compare various systems found in Aristotle’s writings, according to the division of knowledge outlined by Aristotle himself: theoretical, productive and practical. Under theoretical knowledge, students will study Aristotle’s theology/metaphysics, natural science, and mathematics; under productive, they will study rhetoric and poetics; and under practical they will study ethics and politics. Hence, a wide variety of texts from Aristotle’s corpus, including treatises and fragmentary works, will be used. Of special concern will be how Aristotle’s systems of philosophical enquiry, including the investigations of causes and collection of empirical data, help to give an overall shape to his systematic thinking, while at the same time allowing for some deviation in particular sciences. By the end of the module, students will have a general view of Aristotelian philosophy and will be in a position to develop their own unique responses to the classic question of whether Aristotle’s thought holds together as a whole, or whether the complex of systems presented by Aristotle is less coherent than some scholars have thought.

Learning Outcomes

Subject-specific Knowledge:
  • Basic knowledge of Aristotle’s philosophical methodology, with focus especially on modes of explanation and fact organization/classification.
  • Knowledge of large portions of Aristotle’s corpus, with focus on select key topics identified by Aristotle as falling under ‘knowledge’ (theology/metaphysics, natural science [incl. biology and physics], mathematics, rhetoric, poetics, ethics, and politics).
  • Familiarity with the philosophical context for Aristotle’s philosophy, including his predecessors (the Presocratics, Plato, the Sophists), his contemporaries (members of the Early Academy and the Lyceum) and its reception among the later commentators.
  • Awareness of relevant classic and cutting-edge scholarship in Aristotle studies.
Subject-specific Skills:
  • Skills in how to identify and assess diverse types of evidence, including fragmentary treatises and dialogues, and extant treatises.
  • The ability to engage critically with modern scholarship and situate independent thinking in relation to this modern scholarly “landscape”.
  • Ability to make proper use at the appropriate level of reference tools and bibliography.
  • Ability to identify and evaluate philosophical arguments as presented in ancient philosophical texts.
Key Skills:
  • Close analysis and evaluation of evidence using a range of methods and approaches.
  • The ability to assess, evaluate and compare a range of different scholarly arguments, methodologies and approaches.
  • The ability to work independently on projects, organize time, and make use of appropriate IT and physical resources.
  • The capacity to produce tight, well-evidenced and clearly expressed arguments in both oral and in written form

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

  • Teaching will be by fortnightly seminars organised around select topics related to the seven branches of ‘knowledge’ identified by Aristotle, along with an introductory session on Aristotle’s basic philosophical method and life.
  • The seminars are fortnightly and two hours long rather than (e.g.) weekly one hour sessions to allow and encourage significant preparation and detailed discussion.
  • Students will be encouraged to attend undergraduate lectures in appropriate subjects where available.
  • Formative assessment will be by a short essay submitted at the end of Michaelmas term (2000 words) and a presentation on a topic of each student’s own choosing which ideally will become the basis for their summative essay.
  • Summative assessment will be by a 5000-word essay to be submitted at the end of the year on a topic of each student’s own choosing.
  • These assessments will help to promote a proficiency in producing clear, sophisticated and original interpretations of the relevant source materials, and demonstrate students’ understanding and evaluation of relevant modern scholarship. It will also enable students to work within the parameters of proper academic conventions, and in general contributes to research carried out at the appropriate level. It also enables students to practice the dissemination of their ideas in both oral and written forms.

Teaching Methods and Learning Hours

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

Summative Assessment

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

Formative Assessment:

1 essay (2000 words) to be submitted at the end of Michaelmas term and 1 presentation to be given at some point during Michaelmas and/or 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