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Philosophy in Late Antiquity: The Rise of Free Will


Admission requirements

Admission to one of the following programmes is required:

  • MA Philosophy 60 EC: specialisation Modern European Philosophy

  • MA Philosophy 60 EC: specialisation Global and Comparative Philosophy

  • MA Philosophy 120 EC: specialisation Philosophy of Humanities

  • MA Philosophy 120 EC: specialisation Philosophy in World Traditions

  • (Res)MA Classics and Ancient Civilizations: Classics


Around 200 CE Alexander of Aphrodisias wrote his treatise To the emperors on Fate and What is up to us for his benefactors, the emperors Septimius Severus and Caracalla. It is a brilliant showpiece of philosophical ingenuity, displaying complete mastery of the work of Alexander’s favourite philosopher: Aristotle. Although Aristotle never addressed the issues of fate and responsibility as Alexander’s Hellenistic opponents did, Alexander extrapolates from various scraps of Aristotelian thought to show that Aristotelianism is still the best option for philosophers in the third century CE.

In this seminar we will closely study relevant parts of De fato and other works of Alexander as an entry into the late ancient discussion among the philosophical schools. We shall analyze different varieties of fate, determinism, freedom of choice, and freedom of action, resulting in the development of the notion of free will as an independent human power in the 3rd century CE. While reconstructing the late ancient debate we shall compare the arguments to their equivalents in modern philosophy where appropriate.

Course objectives

This course aims to:

  • provide a thorough knowledge of the aims, structure and arguments of the late ancient discussion of fate and free will, including its cosmological, psychological and ethical underpinnings;

  • reconstruct how the notion of a free will arose from this discussion;

  • compare this debate with later and contemporary discussions.


The timetables are available through My Timetable.

Mode of instruction

  • Seminars

Class attendance is required.

Assessment method


  • Presentation: 25%

  • Final paper: 75%


The final mark for the course is established by determination of the weighted average of the subtests (presentation and paper). See above.


The resit consists of a revised or new final paper (75% of the overall grade). The grade for participation remains in place. Students who have obtained a satisfactory overall grade for the first examinations 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 full reading list for each week will be communicated in Brightspace, with appropriate links.

Fundamental to the issues discussed are:

Sharples, Robert W. 1983. Alexander of Aphrodisias on Fate. London: Duckworth.
Relevant portions of this publication (not on loan from the library) will be provided in Brightspace.


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.


  • For substantive questions, contact the lecturer listed in the information bar at the right hand side of the page.

  • For questions about enrolment, admission, etc., contact the Education Administration Office Huizinga


Not applicable.