Durham University
Programme and Module Handbook

Undergraduate Programme and Module Handbook 2023-2024 (archived)

Module CLAS3541: Knowledge & Doubt in Hellenistic Philosophy

Department: Classics and Ancient History

CLAS3541: Knowledge & Doubt in Hellenistic Philosophy

Type Open Level 3 Credits 20 Availability Not available in 2023/24 Module Cap Location Durham


  • CLAS1101 or CLAS1531 or CLAS1761 or CLAS2641 or CLAS2771 or CLAS2701 or a Philosophy module at Level 1 or Level 2.


  • 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 lower levels 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, to a level appropriate for progression to Level 4.


  • Epistemological debate lay at the heart of Hellenistic philosophy. This course will examine the nature and development of Scepticism in Plato's school, and attempts to defend the possibility of knowledge by the new Stoic and Epicurean movements. In parallel with the evidence for these philosophical schools, it will consider the related debate conducted between different medical theorists over the status of medical inference; and finally the Pyrrhonist revival of philosophical scepticism towards the end of the Hellenistic era. As well as the various epistemological positions, the course will address the wider implications of Scepticism for issues involving ethics and decision-making.

Learning Outcomes

Subject-specific Knowledge:
  • the texts needed for an understanding of Greek Scepticism and Empiricism from the fourth century BC to the 3rd century AD, and for the epistemological positions of Stoicism, and Epicureanism;
  • the range of different epistemological positions adopted by different thinkers in antiquity, and the argument adduced for each;
  • how the issue of epistemology impacted on the fields of ethics and of medical theory in antiquity.
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 the fields of, especially, epistemology and ethics.
Key Skills:
  • Capacity for self-motivated work.
  • The ability to reconstruct a plausible line of thought from evidence that is imperfect, biased or indirect.
  • 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.
  • 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

  • Teaching for this module is by weekly two-hour classes, which will normally be structured around a lecture and one other activity: seminar, presentation, class discussion, or revision, as appropriate.
  • Lectures are used to provide factual information and to give models for interpretative procedures in the selection and interpretation of fragments. Seminars, class discussions, and revision classes are used to consolidate knowledge and practise interpretative procedures. Corresponding to this is a 70% examination component, which tests general assimilation and understanding of material across the breadth of the course.
  • Group presentations are used to explore areas of the secondary literature on epistemology. Students are asked to work in small groups on particular themes or periods, and to present their findings to the class as a whole. It is hoped in this way that students come to have a wider and deeper knowledge of the subject as it is currently studied (as they explore it themselves, or hear it from others, respectively). This is written up as a literature review and forms 30% of the summative assessment for the module. Each student writes their own reviews in the end, but it is expected that they will work together with their group for much of the research it involves, and benefit from each other's work and example by doing so.

Teaching Methods and Learning Hours

Activity Number Frequency Duration Total/Hours
Lecture classes 22 1 per week 2 hours 44
Preparation and Reading 156

Summative Assessment

Component: Examination Component Weighting: 70%
Element Length / duration Element Weighting Resit Opportunity
Examination 2 hours 100% Yes
Component: Coursework Component Weighting: 30%
Element Length / duration Element Weighting Resit Opportunity
Literature Review (2,500 words) 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