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

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


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?).

Teaching Methods

Module leaders are revising this content in light of the Covid 19 restrictions.
Revised and approved detail information will be available by 17 August.

Assessment Methods

Module leaders are revising this content in light of the Covid 19 restrictions.
Revised and approved detail information will be available by 17 August.

Reading Lists