Reading texts from the history of philosophy

The details
Colchester Campus
Undergraduate: Level 5
Monday 20 April 2020
Friday 26 June 2020
02 September 2019


Requisites for this module



Key module for


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: Austin's How to Do Things with Words; Anscombe's Intention; Wittgenstein's Blue Book; Rousseau's The Social Contract; Descartes' Metaphysical Meditations; Plato's Gorgias.

This year we will look in detail at a classic philosophical text. Close attention will be paid to reading the text on its own term and develop 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 We will look at the text not only as a historical document and study it also with regard to its on-going contribution to philosophical thinking.

In 2020 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. Through lectures and reading seminars, we will do a close reading of the dialogue together.

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 the student should have:

• 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;

• 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;

• be better readers of philosophical – and other – texts.

Module information

No additional information available.

Learning and teaching methods

2 hours lectures per week 2 hours seminars per week with structured discussions of key passages. Final week 7 hour mini-conference with student presentations in groups


This module does not appear to have a published bibliography.

Assessment items, weightings and deadlines

Coursework / exam Description Deadline Weighting
Coursework Week 30 1000 Word Commentary 23/04/2020 10%
Coursework Week 31 1000 Word Commentary 30/04/2020 10%
Coursework Week 32 1000 Word Commentary 07/05/2020 20%
Coursework Week 33 1000 Word Commentary 14/05/2020 30%
Coursework Week 34 1000 Word Commentary 21/05/2020 30%

Overall assessment

Coursework Exam
100% 0%


Coursework Exam
100% 0%
Module supervisor and teaching staff
Dr Ellisif Wasmuth



External examiner

Dr Thomas Joseph Stern
University College London
Senior Lecturer
Available via Moodle
Of 28 hours, 28 (100%) hours available to students:
0 hours not recorded due to service coverage or fault;
0 hours not recorded due to opt-out by lecturer(s).


Further information

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