Durham University
Programme and Module Handbook

Undergraduate Programme and Module Handbook 2022-2023 (archived)


Department: Classics and Ancient History


Type Open Level 1 Credits 20 Availability Available in 2022/23 Module Cap Location Durham


  • None.


  • None.

Excluded Combination of Modules

  • None.


  • To examine the nature and scope of Western philosophy by studying its formative period: the module will function as an introduction to a wide range of philosophical topics.
  • To develop critical and philosophical skills in dealing with highly fragmentary evidence.


  • This course starts with Hesiod and Orpheus and investigates the themes and approaches that came to distinguish 'philosophy' from 'mythology'.
  • It will consider how our fragmentary knowledge of the Presocratics can be used to reconstruct the early development of thinking about physics and metaphysics (the elements which shape the natural world) - in short, about all the issues that still preoccupy philosophers today.

Learning Outcomes

Subject-specific Knowledge:
  • Knowledge of the texts which are most important for our understanding of philosophy before Socrates, including early mythological accounts of the world, the Ionians, Eleatics, Anaxagoras, Emepdocles, and the Atomists.
Subject-specific Skills:
  • The ability to approach the reconstruction of one thinker within limits of plausibility set by the reconstruction of those immediately before and after.
  • The ability to handle basic philosophical, especially metaphysical and epistemological concepts, including substance, change, being, primary and secondary qualities, relativism and scepticism.
Key Skills:
  • The capacity to present a well-researched, well-articulated, and well-balanced account of the evidence for a particular topic.
  • The capacity to reconstruct a plausible line of thought from imperfect evidence.
  • Increased clarity of thought and expression based on a more sophisticated analytical vocabulary.

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

  • Lectures form the core of the module, being used to provide factual information and to give models for interpretative procedures in the selection and interpretation of fragments. Corresponding to this core is a 70% examination component in the final assessment. This tests general assimilation and understanding of material across the breadth of the course.
  • Seminars are used to give students practice in the manipulation of important concepts and the analysis of fragments, an opportunity to talk through areas of difficulty.
  • Tutorials are for feedback on formative and coursework assessments.
  • The assessed essay, which constitutes 30% of the final assessment, correspondingly tests students' ability to locate, exploit and discuss sources available to them.

Teaching Methods and Learning Hours

Activity Number Frequency Duration Total/Hours
Lectures 22 1 Per Week 1 Hour 22
Tutorials 8 4 in Michaelmas & 4 in Epiphany Term 1 Hour 8
Preparation and Reading 170
Total 200

Summative Assessment

Component: Examination Component Weighting: 70%
Element Length / duration Element Weighting Resit Opportunity
Formal examination 2 hours 100% Examination
Component: Essay Component Weighting: 30%
Element Length / duration Element Weighting Resit Opportunity
Essay 2,000 words 100%

Formative Assessment:

One essay of 1,500 words on a given topic in each of Michaelmas and Epiphany terms.

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