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Study information

Plato's Dialogues

Module titlePlato's Dialogues
Module codePHL2130
Academic year2024/5
Module staff

Dr Jonathan Davies (Convenor)

Duration: Term123
Duration: Weeks


Number students taking module (anticipated)


Module description

The module will engage with a selection of Plato’s dialogues. While the module doesn’t quite go along with A.N. Whitehead’s famous quip that, “…the European philosophical tradition […] consists of a series of footnotes to Plato.”, you will encounter some of the most influential and important works of philosophy in studying Plato’s texts. One of the reasons for the influence of Plato is the wealth of his writing that has survived intact. In these dialogues, written around 2500 years ago, many of the core philosophical problems that you will encounter in your studies are presented, in a form that remains highly relevant and engaging. As well as surveying Plato’s answers to these problems, we are also able to get a glimpse of the vibrant philosophical scene of classical Athens, through the cast of characters that he presents.

Module aims - intentions of the module

The module will focus on reading, interpreting, and critiquing Platonic dialogues on a broad range of philosophical themes. Topics will include, metaphysics, theory of knowledge, ethics, rhetoric, politics and aesthetics. Typically, we will look at two texts that discuss a particular philosophical theme, understand what Plato’s position is and develop a critical engagement with this position. We will also explore the objections that Plato presents, in order to understand the philosophical context in which he was writing. Over the course of the module, we will also come to a wider understanding of Plato’s philosophical development. From the early “Socratic” dialogues to his mature works, we will explore how his philosophy changes (or perhaps doesn’t).

Intended Learning Outcomes (ILOs)

ILO: Module-specific skills

On successfully completing the module you will be able to...

  • 1. Engage in analysis of a selection of platonic dialogues, and critically evaluate differing interpretations of the text.
  • 2. Understand the texts in their historical and philosophical context, relating texts to each other and working towards identifying developments or inconsistencies between earlier and later dialogues.

ILO: Discipline-specific skills

On successfully completing the module you will be able to...

  • 3. Identify and analyse arguments from historical texts. Understand the issues at stake and present clear summaries of the issues, verbally and in writing.
  • 4. Write well-argued essays that critically engage with arguments from the primary texts, as well as with rival interpretations of the texts in secondary literature.

ILO: Personal and key skills

On successfully completing the module you will be able to...

  • 5. Grasp and be able to articulate problems and theories of varying degrees of abstractness, and present coherent clear arguments in response to these problems and theories.
  • 6. Demonstrate the ability to work independently, within a limited time frame, making use of knowledge and external courses to complete a specified task.

Syllabus plan

The course will be structured thematically. Each week will focus on one dialogue, selected to represent that theme.

The themes and texts are indicative. There may be some variation in the texts and topics selected.

Whilst the module’s precise content may vary from year to year, it is envisaged that the syllabus will cover some or all of the following topics:

  • Plato on the life and death of the Philosopher: Apology and Crito
  • Plato’s Ethics: Euthyphro and Protagoras
  • Plato on Love: Phaedrus and Symposium
  • Plato’s Theory of Knowledge: Sophist and Theaetetus
  • Plato’s Metaphysics: Cratylus and Parmenides
  • Plato on Religion and the Soul: Phaedo and Timaeus

Learning activities and teaching methods (given in hours of study time)

Scheduled Learning and Teaching ActivitiesGuided independent studyPlacement / study abroad

Details of learning activities and teaching methods

CategoryHours of study timeDescription
Scheduled Learning Activities2211 x 2 hours per week comprising of lectures and or seminars
Guided independent study38Assigned readings associated with seminars
Guided independent study10Preparation for presentations and in-class discussion
Guided independent study80Preparation for assigned essays

Formative assessment

Form of assessmentSize of the assessment (eg length / duration)ILOs assessedFeedback method
In-class presentation/summary10 minutes1-3, 5, 6Written and oral feedback

Summative assessment (% of credit)

CourseworkWritten examsPractical exams

Details of summative assessment

Form of assessment% of creditSize of the assessment (eg length / duration)ILOs assessedFeedback method
Essay 1501500 words1-6Written feedback
Essay 2501500 words1-6Written feedback

Details of re-assessment (where required by referral or deferral)

Original form of assessmentForm of re-assessmentILOs re-assessedTimescale for re-assessment
Essay 1 (1500 words)Essay 1 (1500 words)1-6Referral/Deferral period
Essay 2 (1500 words)Essay 2 (1500 words)1-6Referral/Deferral period

Indicative learning resources - Basic reading

  • Plato (1997) Complete works / edited, with introduction and notes, by John M. Cooper; associate editor, D.S. Hutchinson. Hackett. (Indianapolis)
  • Plato (2017) Euthyphro; Apology ; Crito ; Phaedo; edited and translated by Chris Emlyn-Jones and William Preddy. Harvard University Press. (Cambridge, MA)

Secondary Literature

  • Nightingale, A. W. (2021) Philosophy and religion in Plato's Dialogues. Cambridge University Press (Cambridge)
  • Politis, V. (2015) The structure of enquiry in Plato's early Dialogues. Cambridge University Press (Cambridge)
  • Ralkowski, M. (2018) Plato's trial of Athens. Bloomsbury Academic (London)
  • Rowett, C. (2018) Knowledge and truth in Plato: stepping past the shadow of Socrates. Oxford University Press (Oxford)

Key words search

Plato, Ethics, Epistemology, Metaphysics, Classical, Dialogues

Credit value15
Module ECTS


Module pre-requisites


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NQF level (module)


Available as distance learning?


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Last revision date