Module Catalogue 2020/21

CAC1015 : How Should I Live? An Introduction to Ancient Moral Philosophy

  • Offered for Year: 2020/21
  • Module Leader(s): Dr David Creese
  • Lecturer: Dr Athanassios Vergados
  • Owning School: History, Classics and Archaeology
  • Teaching Location: Newcastle City Campus
Semester 2 Credit Value: 20
ECTS Credits: 10.0
Pre Requisites
Pre Requisite Comment


Co Requisites
Co Requisite Comment



The question about how people should live their lives vexed the ancients as much as it does people in the modern world. Such fundamental questions as ‘are the gods listening?’ and ‘am I really responsible for all my actions?’ sparked philosophical debates which were felt in wider society and reflected in plays and other arts.

In this module we shall consider the range of issues Greeks and Romans thought people should consider in trying to answer the question ‘how should I live?’. We shall examine the ancient arguments about whether human beings have a specific function, whether there is such a thing as justice and what it might be, what happiness is and how we can achieve it, and what role a ‘soul’ might play in the choices we make in our lives. We shall examine the conflicting positions on these subjects put forward by different philosophical schools, consider the historical background to the debates between them, explore some of the ways in which these debates had an impact on the wider intellectual culture of Greek and Roman antiquity, and evaluate the extent to which the views these thinkers advocated were normative or subversive, pragmatic or idealistic, a reflection of their society's conception of the good life or a radical criticism of it.

This module therefore aims to give students the opportunity to gain a solid introduction to the intellectual traditions of the Greeks and Romans in the field of ethics, with emphasis also on the connections between ancient discussions of moral philosophy and political theory, religion and psychology. Throughout the module students will address questions about life from both ancient and modern perspectives, and will be equipped with the historical background necessary to contextualise the debates and consider their relevance in both ancient and modern times. Students will be encouraged to read and engage with the arguments through the primary philosophical works and secondary literature on these works. The module will enable students to develop skills in critical reading, discussion and debate, and the construction and evaluation of arguments.

Outline Of Syllabus

The module will proceed chronologically, considering in turn the views of Hesiod and other early Greek poets, Plato, Aristotle and the Hellenistic and Roman philosophers on key themes in ancient moral philosophy (e.g. is morality teachable? what does it mean to do right by other people? what would a just society look like? how can we be happy? what is the point of love and sex? are there eternal consequences for wrongdoing? do the gods care how I live?).

Learning Outcomes

Intended Knowledge Outcomes

Students who complete this module should acquire:
• in-depth knowledge of the positions and arguments on the debates in ethics of the most important
Greek thinkers;
• an understanding of the philosophical complexity of the major moral questions;
• an appreciation of the ways in which the ancient debates are still relevant today.

Intended Skill Outcomes

Intended skills outcomes:

Development of capacity for independent study and critical judgement and of the ability to respond promptly, cogently and clearly to new and unexpected questions arising from this study.

More specifically, students who complete this module should acquire:

Skills in analysing, interpreting and evaluating the relevant ancient texts (in translation).
Skills in discussing ethical issues.

Teaching Methods

Teaching Activities
Category Activity Number Length Student Hours Comment
Scheduled Learning And Teaching ActivitiesLecture221:0022:00N/A
Guided Independent StudyAssessment preparation and completion741:0074:0045% of guided independent study
Guided Independent StudyDirected research and reading741:0074:0045% of guided independent study
Scheduled Learning And Teaching ActivitiesSmall group teaching101:0010:00Seminars
Scheduled Learning And Teaching ActivitiesWorkshops21:002:00N/A
Scheduled Learning And Teaching ActivitiesDrop-in/surgery21:002:00N/A
Guided Independent StudyIndependent study161:0016:0010% of guided independent study
Teaching Rationale And Relationship

Lectures are used:
•       to introduce ancient authors and key information about their approaches to the philosophical questions under discussion
•       to encourage critical reading of the texts by means of close reading of selected passages
•       to stimulate development of listening and note-taking skills
•       to recommend secondary readings relevant to the interpretive problems raised, and highlight essential arguments and controversies in these readings
•       to challenge students to reflect on the logical foundations of their own ethical ideas in the light of ancient arguments that may appear foreign to them
Seminars are used:
•       to allow students to discuss a prescribed piece of secondary literature in a small group, in a conversation structured by seminar questions distributed in advance
•       to give students the opportunity to articulate their own arguments about an aspect of ancient moral philosophy
Surgeries are used:
•       to offer students the opportunity to consult teaching staff about preparing their coursework essay and revising for the exam, and to benefit from hearing the answers to others’ questions

Reading Lists

Assessment Methods

The format of resits will be determined by the Board of Examiners

Description Length Semester When Set Percentage Comment
Written Examination1202A75N/A
Other Assessment
Description Semester When Set Percentage Comment
Essay2M251500 words
Assessment Rationale And Relationship

The examination is designed to test breadth of knowledge and reading. The essay is designed to assess students’ skills in critical reading and use of evidence, and their ability to construct coherent, logical and interesting arguments about a single topic in ancient ethics.

Submitted work tests intended knowledge and skills outcomes, develops key skills in research, reading and writing.

All Erasmus students at Newcastle University are expected to do the same assessment as students registered for a degree.

Study-abroad, non-Erasmus exchange and Loyola students spending semester 1 only are required to finish their assessment while in Newcastle. This will take the form of an alternative assessment, as outlined in the formats below:

Modules assessed by Coursework and Exam:
The normal alternative form of assessment for all semester 1 non-EU study abroad students will be one essay in addition to the other coursework assessment (the length of the essay should be adjusted in order to comply with the assessment tariff); to be submitted no later than 12pm Friday of week 12. The essays should be set so as to assure coverage of the course content to date.

Modules assessed by Exam only:
The normal alternative form of assessment for all semester 1 non-EU study abroad students will be two 2,000 word written exercises; to be submitted no later than 12pm Friday of week 12. The essays should be set so as to assure coverage of the course content to date.

Modules assessed by Coursework only:
All semester 1 non-EU study abroad students will be expected to complete the standard assessment for the module; to be submitted no later than 12pm Friday of week 12. The essays should be set so as to assure coverage of the course content to date.

Study-abroad, non-Erasmus exchange and Loyola students spending the whole academic year or semester 2 are required to complete the standard assessment as set out in the MOF under all circumstances.


Past Exam Papers

General Notes


Disclaimer: The information contained within the Module Catalogue relates to the 2020/21 academic year. In accordance with University Terms and Conditions, the University makes all reasonable efforts to deliver the modules as described. Modules may be amended on an annual basis to take account of changing staff expertise, developments in the discipline, the requirements of external bodies and partners, and student feedback. Module information for the 2021/22 entry will be published here in early-April 2021. Queries about information in the Module Catalogue should in the first instance be addressed to your School Office.