The Ethical Aspects of Self-knowledge in Plato’s Dialogues

dr. Jakub Jirsa


Mon – 10:50-12:25

This course is an independent continuation from the Fall term 2006, i.e. it can be taken either separately or as a continuation from the last term.

The main topic of this term will be the soul-body relation in Plato’s dialogues and its ethical significance. We will start with the psychology and theory of the tripartite soul from the Republic (short recapitulation from the end of the last term) and the Timaeus. I will argue that these dialogues exhibit roughly the same account of human psychology, however they differ in approach taken to the subject (moral psychology of human motivation vs. Plato’s account “on nature”). The Timaeus will lead us directly to the soul-body relation which will be examined in three dialogues: Gorgias, Phaedo and Timaeus. Finally, we will see that the proper care of the body and the proper care of the soul have ultimately the same final goal – good life. The conception of a good or even the best life according to Plato is exhibited in his maxim “becoming like god”. This will be our final topic for this term.


·    course participation    30%
·    presentation(s)    30%
·    term essay        40%

Schedule Spring term 2007:

19.2.    introductory lesson

26.2.    Three parts of soul in the Timaeus I.

5.3.    Three parts of soul in the Timaeus II.

12.3.    Soul-body relation in the Alcibiades I. and the Gorgias

19.3.    Soul-body relation in the Phaedo

26.3.    Soul-body relation in the Phaedo II

2.4.    Soul-body relation in the Timaeus

16.4.    Soul-body relation in the Timaeus II

23.4.    “Becoming like God” I

[there will be one extra term to make up for 30.4. and 7.5.; reserved for any possible delay etc.]

14.5.    “Becoming like God” II

21.5.    concluding lesson, presentation of student’s term papers

Further suggested bibliography:
Plato’s dialogues

Cooper, J. M. (ed.) (1997): Plato - Complete Works, Indianopolis.

For those with basic knowledge of ancient Greek I recommend the Loeb Classical Library editions (Greek-English), though the translation is not always the best one.

Introductory works

Annas, J. (1999): Platonic Ethics, Old and New, Ithaca.

Annas, J. and Rowe, C. J. (eds) (2002): New Perspectives on Plato, Modern and Ancient, Cambridge MA.

Burnyeat, M. F. (2000): “Plato on Why Mathematics is Good for the Soul”, in Smiley, T. (ed.): Mathematics and Necessity, Proceedings of the British Academy 103, Oxford.

Cooper, J. M. (1999): Reason and Emotion, New Jersey.

Gill, C. (1996): Personality in Greek Epic, Tragedy, and Philosophy, Oxford. (introduction and chapters on Plato)

Kahn, C. H. (1996): Plato and the Socratic Dialogue, Cambridge.

Striker, G. (1996): “Greek Ethics and Moral Theory”, in idem (ed): Essays in Hellenic Epistemology and Ethics, Cambridge, 169-182.

Taylor, A. E. (1960): Plato. The Man and his Work, London.

Taylor, Ch. (1989): Sources of the Self, Cambridge MA. (chapters on Plato)

Vlastos, G. (ed.) (1978): Plato. A Collection of Critical Essays. II: Ethics, Politics, and Philosophy of Art and Religion, Notre Dame.