Reading texts from the history of philosophy

The details
Philosophical, Historical and Interdisciplinary Studies (School of)
Colchester Campus
Undergraduate: Level 5
Tuesday 22 April 2025
Friday 27 June 2025
05 April 2024


Requisites for this module



Key module for

BA V500 Philosophy,
BA V501 Philosophy (Including Year Abroad),
BA V502 Philosophy (Including Foundation Year),
BA V503 Philosophy (including Placement Year),
BA V508 Philosophy (Including Foundation Year and Year Abroad),
MPHIV599 Philosophy,
MPHIVA98 Philosophy (Including Placement Year),
MPHIVA99 Philosophy (Including Year Abroad),
BA VV56 Philosophy, Religion and Ethics,
BA VV57 Philosophy, Religion and Ethics (Including Placement Year),
BA VV58 Philosophy, Religion and Ethics (Including Foundation Year),
BA VV59 Philosophy, Religion and Ethics (Including Foundation Year and Year Abroad),
BA VV5P Philosophy, Religion and Ethics (Including Year Abroad)

Module description

The general aim of this module is to improve students' ability to read, understand and critically assess philosophical texts from a range of historical periods and philosophical traditions. The particular text (or texts) under consideration in any one year will operate as exemplary for the development of philosophical reading skills more generally. Some of the texts that may be addressed include: Kierkegaard's Philosophical Crumbs, Austin's How to Do Things with Words; Anscombe's Intention; Rousseau's The Social Contract; Descartes' Metaphysical Meditations; Plato's Gorgias, Merleau-Ponty's The Prose of the World.

Each year, we look in detail at a classic philosophical text. Close attention will be paid to reading the text on its own terms and developing students' critical and philosophical skills by engaging closely with the arguments and questions raised. We will look at the text not only as a historical document, but also study it with regard to its on-going contribution to philosophical thinking.

Module aims

The aims of this module are:

  • To develop a good and critical understanding of a text or set of texts from the history of philosophy (such as Austin’s How to Do Things with Words or Anscombe’s Intention or Wittgenstein’s Blue Book or Plato’s Gorgias) through attentive reading of his text.

  • To gain a better understanding of what it means to attentively read a philosophical text.

  • To gain an insight into the role of expression within philosophy and beyond.

Module learning outcomes

By the end of this module, students will be expected to be able to:

  1. Be in a position to reconstruct, analyse and criticise the position found in the text or set of texts from the history of philosophy on which the module focuses.

  2. Be able to enter into discussion with a range of positions on the topic in a text or set of texts from the history of philosophy.

  3. Be better readers of philosophical – and other – texts.

Module information

In this module,we will read Plato's Gorgias. In this dialogue, Plato explores questions surrounding the value and nature of rhetoric – the art of speaking and persuading others of your views. In our age of Fake News and demagoguery, Plato’s questions are both timely and important, and through our close reading of the Gorgias we’ll explore questions concerning power and truth, politics and happiness and, not least, the role of philosophy in both politics and the good life. The dialogue contains Socrates’ famous argument that it is better to suffer injustice than to commit it (even if with impunity) as well as a fierce battle between different conceptions of justice: is justice merely whatever the stronger party decrees, or is it something good in itself and a necessary component of a happy life? The Gorgias not only contains hugely influential arguments on these topics, it also introduces us to some of the most memorable characters in the philosophical canon: the sophist Gorgias, the young Polus, and the fierce critic of conventional justice, Callicles. I this course, we’ll pay particular attention to Plato’s use of the dialogue form and ask why he does philosophy through the use of drama and myths. 

Learning and teaching methods

This module will be delivered via:

  • Weekly discussion seminars.


The above list is indicative of the essential reading for the course.
The library makes provision for all reading list items, with digital provision where possible, and these resources are shared between students.
Further reading can be obtained from this module's reading list.

Assessment items, weightings and deadlines

Coursework / exam Description Deadline Coursework weighting
Coursework   500-word commentary (1)    25% 
Coursework   750-word commentary (2)    37.5% 
Coursework   750-word commentary (3)    37.5% 

Exam format definitions

  • Remote, open book: Your exam will take place remotely via an online learning platform. You may refer to any physical or electronic materials during the exam.
  • In-person, open book: Your exam will take place on campus under invigilation. You may refer to any physical materials such as paper study notes or a textbook during the exam. Electronic devices may not be used in the exam.
  • In-person, open book (restricted): The exam will take place on campus under invigilation. You may refer only to specific physical materials such as a named textbook during the exam. Permitted materials will be specified by your department. Electronic devices may not be used in the exam.
  • In-person, closed book: The exam will take place on campus under invigilation. You may not refer to any physical materials or electronic devices during the exam. There may be times when a paper dictionary, for example, may be permitted in an otherwise closed book exam. Any exceptions will be specified by your department.

Your department will provide further guidance before your exams.

Overall assessment

Coursework Exam
100% 0%


Coursework Exam
100% 0%
Module supervisor and teaching staff
Dr Ellisif Wasmuth, email:
Professor Timo Juetten
PHAIS General Office - 6.130;



External examiner

Dr Josiah Saunders
Durham University
Associate Professor
Available via Moodle
Of 30 hours, 27 (90%) hours available to students:
3 hours not recorded due to service coverage or fault;
0 hours not recorded due to opt-out by lecturer(s), module, or event type.


* Please note: due to differing publication schedules, items marked with an asterisk (*) base their information upon the previous academic year.

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