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Module VPR-3330:
Ancient Philosophy

Module Facts

Run by School of History, Philosophy and Social Sciences

20 Credits or 10 ECTS Credits

Semester 1

Organiser: Dr Toby Betenson

Overall aims and purpose

Philosophy began with what is now called ‘ancient philosophy’. This module introduces and provides a broad overview of ancient philosophy by looking at the thought of some exemplary ancient philosophers. Beginning with the ‘pre-Socratics’, we ask whether Achilles can catch a tortoise, whether horses would have gods that look like horses, and whether you can ever step in the same river twice. We then move on to Socrates (a philosopher so important that all philosophy prior to him is named as such), discussing the ‘Socratic method’, with a focus on his contributions to ethics (which remain at the forefront of moral philosophy to this day). We will cover the key features of the thought of both Plato and Aristotle, two philosophers who have in large part set the terms of all philosophical, scientific, and religious thought that came after them. Finally, we will cover the major Hellenistic philosophical schools of Epicureanism, Neo-Platonism, and Stoicism, focussing on the continued relevance that these ancient philosophies can have to our modern lives.

Course content

This module provides a broad overview of, and introduction to, ancient philosophy in the Western tradition. It will cover, mainly in chronological order, the entirety of the ‘ancient’ philosophical era, beginning with the pre-Socratics, moving through Socrates, Plato, and Aristotle, and onwards to Stoicism, some key Roman philosophers, and Neo-Platonism. Emphasis will be put on the connections between ancient philosophy and later philosophical or religious developments, and on the influence that ancient philosophy has had on human thought generally. Historical narrative detail will be included where relevant (e.g., Socrates’ death, the Peloponnesian War, Aristotle and Alexander the Great, etc.) to provide context. Significant emphasis will be placed on the continued relevance that ancient philosophical schools can have for our modern lives, enabling us to overcome adversity and ‘live well’.

Assessment Criteria


Shows some knowledge of key areas of the module with acceptable presentation of arguments.


Shows detailed knowledge of key areas covered in the module with the arguments presented in a logical and coherent way.


Shows comprehensive and very detailed understanding of the material covered in the module, with considerable analytic ability or originality.

Learning outcomes

  1. To demonstrate knowledge of, understanding of, and an ability to critically evaluate the influence that ancient philosophy has had on the history of human thought.

  2. To analyse, research, and construct a sustained argument applicable to the content of this course, showing some degree of originality.

  3. To demonstrate knowledge of, understanding of, and an ability to critically evaluate the major themes and thinkers of the ancient philosophical period.

Assessment Methods

Type Name Description Weight
Essay 50
Exam 50

Teaching and Learning Strategy

Lecture 22
Private study 178

Transferable skills

  • Literacy - Proficiency in reading and writing through a variety of media
  • Computer Literacy - Proficiency in using a varied range of computer software
  • Self-Management - Able to work unsupervised in an efficient, punctual and structured manner. To examine the outcomes of tasks and events, and judge levels of quality and importance
  • Exploring - Able to investigate, research and consider alternatives
  • Information retrieval - Able to access different and multiple sources of information
  • Inter-personal - Able to question, actively listen, examine given answers and interact sensitevely with others
  • Critical analysis & Problem Solving - Able to deconstruct and analyse problems or complex situations. To find solutions to problems through analyses and exploration of all possibilities using appropriate methods, rescources and creativity.
  • Presentation - Able to clearly present information and explanations to an audience. Through the written or oral mode of communication accurately and concisely.
  • Argument - Able to put forward, debate and justify an opinion or a course of action, with an individual or in a wider group setting
  • Self-awareness & Reflectivity - Having an awareness of your own strengths, weaknesses, aims and objectives. Able to regularly review, evaluate and reflect upon the performance of yourself and others

Subject specific skills

  • Articulacy in identifying underlying issues in a wide variety of debates.
  • Precision of thought and expression in the analysis and formulation of complex and controversial problems.
  • Sensitivity in interpretation of religious and philosophical texts drawn from a variety of ages and/or traditions.
  • Clarity and rigour in the critical assessment of arguments presented in such texts.
  • The ability to use and criticise specialised religious and philosophical terminology.
  • The ability to abstract and analyse arguments, and to identify flaws in them, such as false premises and invalid reasoning.
  • The ability to construct rationally persuasive arguments for or against specific religious and philosophical claims.
  • The ability to move between generalisation and appropriately detailed discussion, inventing or discovering examples to support or challenge a position, and distinguishing relevant and irrelevant considerations.
  • The ability to consider unfamiliar ideas and ways of thinking, and to examine critically presuppositions and methods within the disciplines of philosophy and religion.

Courses including this module