Durham University
Programme and Module Handbook

Undergraduate Programme and Module Handbook 2023-2024 (archived)

Module CLAS1761: Socrates and the Socratics

Department: Classics and Ancient History

CLAS1761: Socrates and the Socratics

Type Open Level 1 Credits 20 Availability Not available in 2023/24 Module Cap Location Durham


  • None


  • None

Excluded Combination of Modules

  • None


  • To promote the learning and understanding of ancient philosophy in accordance with the general aims of the relevant Degree Programmes, and to broaden students’ understanding of the culture of Classical antiquity; to develop knowledge of a key period in Western intellectual thought, and introduce philosophical topics, questions and approaches which became foundational for the subsequent tradition.


  • In later antiquity, Socrates was viewed as a watershed in philosophical history, and a reference-point for everything that came after him. Quite how he achieved this status is unclear. Indeed, we do not have clear and consistent evidence even for his beliefs and methods (the ‘Socratic problem’) – although evidently, he inspired a particular way of doing philosophy, and put the human individual at the centre of inquiry as never before. This course approaches Socrates first and foremost through what we know of his first-generation followers, the ‘Socratics’. In doing so, it aims to glimpse the person of Socrates through his most important immediate legacy, while at the same time giving a sense of the philosophical ‘status quaestionis’ at Athens in the years after Socrates’ death. As well as Socrates himself, the course will serve as an introduction to Plato and Xenophon (the two Socratics whose works survive), influential ‘minor Socratics’ including Aeschines, Antisthenes, Aristippus and Phaedo, and the fragmentary evidence for some 23 other figures whom we know to have shared their enthusiasm for ‘Socratic inquiry’.

Learning Outcomes

Subject-specific Knowledge:
  • representative texts which are most important for our understanding of the historical figure of Socrates
  • representative texts written by, or attesting to the work of, the first generation of philosophers inspired by Socrates (the ‘Socratics’)
  • the various positions taken among the Socratics (including Plato and Xenophon) on issues including human psychology, happiness, and virtue; politics, theology and education; the scope for identifying Socrates’ own views on these issues.
Subject-specific Skills:
  • the ability to use textual evidence to develop plausible accounts of particular theoretical positions in their full historical and polemical context
  • an ability to engage critically with the full range of evidence, fragments as well as complete texts, partisan as well as polemical reports, in reconstructing individual philosophical positions
  • confidence in handling and deploying basic philosophical concepts, especially in the field of ethics
  • reflective awareness of the nature of dialectical inquiry.
Key Skills:
  • the ability to present a well-researched, well-articulated, and well-balanced account of diverse evidence
  • the ability to read philosophical texts of a wide range of styles with confidence, and the capacity to identify and engage critically with arguments set out in them.
  • the ability to reconstruct a plausible line of thought from evidence that is imperfect, biased, or indirect.
  • an independence of mind which is strengthened, not compromised, by the sympathetic understanding of alternative points of view.

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.
  • 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 Weekly 1 hour 22
Tutorials 2 1 hour 2
Seminars 4 1 hour 4
Preparation and reading time 172
Total 200

Summative Assessment

Component: Essay Component Weighting: 30%
Element Length / duration Element Weighting Resit Opportunity
Essay 2,500 words 100%
Component: Written examination Component Weighting: 70%
Element Length / duration Element Weighting Resit Opportunity
Written examination 2 hours 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