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The Daimonic in Greek Philosophy and Beyond


Admission requirements

Admission to one of the following programmes is required:

  • MA Philosophy 60 EC: Modern European Philosophy

  • MA Philosophy 60 EC: Global and Comparative Philosophy

  • MA Philosophy 120 EC: Philosophy of Humanities

  • MA Philosophy 120 EC: Philosophy in World Traditions

  • MA Philosophy 120 EC: Philosophy of Psychology

  • (Res)MA Classics and Ancient Civilizations: Classics


Despite being not so well-known to the average philosophy student, the 'daimôn' and the daimonic is one of the key notions in ancient Greek philosophy. Coming to grips with this notion of the daimôn, involves an exploration of the Greek philosophical notion of self, the soul, the capacity for rational thinking, the divine, and the place of man in the cosmos.

The core of this course will be the role of the daimonic in the Platonic and Stoic philosophical tradition between Plato and the later Neoplatonists. Here, the daimôn becomes a key aspect of philosophical thought. To put this tradition into context, we shall also briefly treat some of its precedents, namely the pre-philosophical notion of the daimôn in Greek culture as it is manifest in Greek tragedy, and the use of the notion in some of the Presocratics.

A major breaking point with the previous conceptions of the daimôn and the daimonic, is Plato, who then forms the point of departure for subsequent philosophical thought about it. In Plato’s work, three main uses of the daimonic can be distinguished:

  1. Socrates is said to receive a daimonic sign or voice, which makes him refrain from certain activities and which he describes as the reason for him becoming a philosopher (Rep. VI 496a-c).
  2. In the Symposium, Plato, through the character of Diotima, develops the notion of daimôn as a being in between gods and human beings, between the earthly and the heavenly realm. At the same time, this introduction of the daimôn as a being that is ‘in between’, also functions as a description of the philosopher, as someone who is led by daimonic desire for that divine thing that we lack: wisdom.
  3. In the Timaeus, the daimôn becomes our very own rational soul, seated in our head, the source of our (divine) capacity for knowledge. This part of our soul, explains Timaeus, is made from the same ‘stuff’ as the soul of the universe and has the capacity to raise us up towards the heavenly bodies that are akin to it.

These three different depictions of the daimôn all recur in the later Platonic and Stoic traditions. According to Plutarch, the daimôn enables a crucial connection between men and gods, by mediating between their realms. The Roman emperor and Stoic philosopher Marcus Aurelius, in his Meditations, constantly admonishes himself to keep his inner daimôn pure, which he considers to be the very definition of doing philosophy. In Plotinus, our daimôn is the better part of us that we need to follow in order to get closer to our divine origin. For all these authors, and others, the notion of the daimôn and the daimonic is central to an understanding of the philosophical life. Yet, most aspiring philosophers of today, are unaware of this fact. Why is that?

As we shall see, towards the end our course, the daimôn is demonized. It comes to be the demon, an agent of evil, as Christianity starts to dominate the intellectual scene. In Augustine, for example, we see a forceful condemnation of the philosophical reverence for the daimonic, which is now portrayed as an evil cult. At the same time, some of Augustine’s descriptions of the angels are remarkably similar to those previously provided by the philosophers for the daimones.

Perhaps, however, we have recently witnessed a return of the daimonic/demonic as a force capable of bringing us closer to the divine, in the work of 19th century (Christian) authors such as Kierkegaard and Dostojevski. Although the demonic is still considered dangerous and even evil, as such it now becomes part of the path to the divine, once again. This is a subject that we shall explore briefly at the end of the course.

To summarize, the course consists of three (unequal) parts:

  1. the daimôn before Plato
  2. the daimôn in the Greek philosophical tradition
  3. the daimôn after the rise of Christianity

Part 2 will make up the bulk of this course.

Course objectives

The primary aims of the course are:

  • to acquire a thorough understanding of a key-notion in Greek philosophy, that is related to Greek notions of self, the soul, the capacity for rational thought, the divine, and the place of man in the cosmos;

  • to engage with these Greek notions, not merely to learn about the history of European philosophy, but at the same time to philosophically question (our) notions of the self, the divine, and the place of man in the cosmos;

  • to learn how to critically and carefully read and discuss philosophical texts;

  • to improve your capacities for academic research and writing.

A secondary aim is:

  • to learn how the notion of the daimonic develops in later history, and what factors shape such development.


Visit MyTimetable.

Mode of instruction

  • Seminars

Class attendance is required.

Assessment method


  • Midterm essay, max. 2000 words (30%)

  • Final essay, max 4000 words (70%)


The final mark for the course is established by determination of the weighted average of the subtests.


To be announced.

Students who have obtained a satisfactory grade for the first examination cannot take the resit.

Inspection and feedback

How and when an exam review will take place will be disclosed together with the publication of the exam results at the latest. If a student requests a review within 30 days after publication of the exam results, an exam review will have to be organized.

Reading list

A syllabus with primary texts (in English translation) and some secondary literature will be provided via Brightspace. A list of optional literature will be provided as well.


Enrolment through uSis is mandatory.
General information about uSis is available on the website

Students are strongly advised to register in uSis through the activity number, which can be found in the timetables for courses and exams.

Registration Studeren à la carte and Contractonderwijs

Not applicable.


Dr. R.W. Vinkesteijn


Not applicable.