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Ancient and Medieval Philosophy (Level 5)


  • Credit value: 30 credits at Level 5
  • Convenor and tutor: Dr Sophia Connell
  • Assessment: a 1000-word essay (40%) and 1500-word essay (60%)

Module description

In this module we explore and analyse theories of knowledge and intelligence in ancient and medieval philosophy, i.e. how it is possible to find out what the world is like and what counts as legitimate knowledge of this. Relatedly, we will investigate accounts of what minds that can understand are like and what humans have to do to be able to access the truth about reality.

We begin with Plato, detailing his quest for inspiration and knowledge in the Phaedrus, his sceptical turn in his Theaetetus and Parmenides and his account of a likely universe in which reason persuades necessity in the Timaeus. We then turn to Aristotle whose influence would be felt until the early modern period. We will focus first on his account of the cosmos and the living beings within it, before seeking to understand how humans can attain the most divine life by imitating a thinking God. The final part of the module will introduce post-Aristotelian approaches, providing accounts of knowledge, intelligence and mind in the later antiquity and medieval Islamic philosophy.

Indicative syllabus

  • Plato’s tripartite psychology
  • Plato on love as aspiration to philosophical inquiry
  • Protagoras’ measure doctrine in Plato’s Theaetetus
  • Plato’s epistemology and the theory of Forms
  • Reason, Necessity and the Likely story in Plato’s Timaeus
  • Aristotle on knowledge of natural causes
  • Definitions of soul in Aristotle’s De Anima
  • Intellect and reasoning in Aristotle
  • Plotinus on the One and Intellect
  • Plotinus on immortal mind and transcendence
  • Islamic philosophy on knowledge of the divine
  • Islamic views of the mind and senses
  • Avicenna’s floating man thought experiment

Learning objectives

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

  • understand philosophical debates and arguments in some central areas of ancient philosophy
  • deploy relevant philosophical concepts and distinctions
  • understand one or more key theories in ancient philosophy
  • formulate philosophical questions with precision and clarity
  • support or challenge philosophical theories by constructing objections and defences.