Durham University
Programme and Module Handbook

Undergraduate Programme and Module Handbook 2023-2024 (archived)

Module CLAS2791: Stoicism

Department: Classics and Ancient History

CLAS2791: Stoicism

Type Open Level 2 Credits 20 Availability Not available in 2023/24 Module Cap Location Durham


  • CLAS1601 or at least one module in Philosophy or the History of Philosophy at Level 1


  • 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; to introduce students who have studied philosophy at Level 1 to new and more challenging philosophical topics, texts and concepts, and thereby to develop the range of their knowledge, and the depth of their analytical skills.


  • Stoicism was founded in the third century BC by Zeno of Citium, apparently in reaction to what he saw as the decadent philosophy of Plato and his school. But in "reverting" to a purer form of Socratic philosophy, the Stoics proved themselves to be among the most innovative and powerful intellectual forces of the Hellenistic era. The aim of this module is to contribute to an understanding of intellectual life in the Hellenistic era and beyond, and to stimulate philosophical thought, by studying the whole of this most self-consciously systematic philosophy: its logic, physics, and ethics.

Learning Outcomes

Subject-specific Knowledge:
  • the texts which are most important for our understanding of Hellenistic Stoicism
  • the dominant Stoic views on physics (the nature of the cosmos), epistemology (the possibility and importance of knowledge), and ethics (virtue and happiness); the close interrelationship supposed to subsist between these branches of knowledge; and, where relevant, significant differences of opinion within the Stoa over these issues
  • the principal lines of interpretation and debate in contemporary scholarship on Stoicism
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 covering a range of fields (physics, epistemology, ethics)
Key Skills:
  • Capacity for self-motivated work.
  • The ability to present a well-researched, well-articulated, and well-balanced account of the evidence for a particular topic, which takes the views of other commentators into account.
  • 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 50% examination component and 20% coursework component in final assessment. The former tests general assimilation and understanding of material across the breadth of the course. The latter takes the form of "Continuous Revision", in which students collate the results of ongoing primary and secondary reading for their understanding of particular topics (concision and focus being part of the aim, each sheet should average no more than 500 words). As an element in summative assessment they demonstrate the level of understanding achieved in given areas, as well as showing how students have through their own work built on and consolidated the material fed to them in lectures.
  • 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 172
Total 200

Summative Assessment

Component: Essay Component Weighting: 30%
Element Length / duration Element Weighting Resit Opportunity
Essay 2,000 words 100% Yes
Component: Continuous revision Component Weighting: 20%
Element Length / duration Element Weighting Resit Opportunity
Four continuous revision sheets (25% each) 500 words each 100% Yes
Component: Written examination Component Weighting: 50%
Element Length / duration Element Weighting Resit Opportunity
Written examination 2 hours 100% Yes

Formative Assessment:

One formative exercise

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