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Seminar Presocratic Philosophy: the Conflictive Origins of a New Intellectual Practice


Admission requirements

This class can be taken in fulfilment of the requirements of both the MA and the Research MA program in Classics and Ancient Civilization (track Classics) or Philosophy (basic working knowledge of Greek needed), with differential requirements.

Admission requirements for other students: a BA degree in Classics or Philosophy obtained from a university in the Netherlands, or a comparable qualification obtained from a university outside the Netherlands. Moreover, students with an international degree have to contact the coordinator of studies to check admissibility.


Considering the existence of philosophy as an intellectual practice before Plato is a controversial assumption. Is it in fact appropriate to regard the Presocratics as philosophers rather than, for example, as sages, didactic poets or mages? Is it possible to historically situate the origins of Greek philosophy before the 4th century BCE? The seminar will explore how philosophy, arguably one of the most spectacular intellectual innovations of the “Greek breakthrough”, constituted and defined itself as a discipline. We will be working at two different levels. On the one hand, we will study the doctrines of the major Presocratic philosophers within their cultural context – namely, the Milesian school, the Pythagoreans, Xenophanes, Heraclitus, Parmenides, Empedocles, and the Atomists. In addition to the theoretical analysis of each doctrine, we will explore the historical construction that legitimized the Presocratics as the first philosophers – namely Aristotle’s Metaphysics A.

The central question will be that of the “unity” of Presocratic thought and the characterization of Presocratic thinkers as “philosophers”.

Course objectives

At the end of this seminar, the students will:

  • be familiar with recent scholarship and original source material, in particular Presocratic philosophy;

  • have the skill to read and assess these sources, and understand them within their cultural context, as demonstrated in written examination;

  • possess knowledge of the history of scholarship concerning Presocratic philosophy;

  • possess knowledge concerning the historiographical models that have shaped our understanding of the emergence of philosophy as an intellectual practice;

  • be capable of critical assessment of secondary literature.


Research MA students: Advanced research skills: independent formulation of complex research question, collecting materials (both primary texts and results of earlier research). Analyzing results, constructing arguments, formulating conclusions.
MA students: Research skills as above, but with fewer materials and more help, as specified in the first session of class.

  • Oral presentation: presenting clearly and on the basis of arguments the results of the student’s research. Effective use of hand-out, illustrations and/or multi-media techniques;

  • Written presentation: setting out research results effectively, clearly and in a well-structured manner. The student will be capable to demonstrate in writing their grasp of critical issues in recent scholarship, and to test and assess recent scholarly contributions by confronting them with the original source material.


The timetable is available on the Classics and Ancient Civilizations website.

Mode of instruction

  • Seminar. Students are required to attend all classes, to be fully prepared and to join the discussions.

Course Load

Total course load 10 ec x 28 hours= 280 hours; or 5 ec x 28 hours= 140 hours;

  • class hours: 14 × 2= 28 hours;

  • preparation examination: 52 hours;

  • oral presentation: 40 hours;

  • abstract: 20 hours;

  • paper: 140 hours.

Assessment method

  • Written examination with essay questions (30%);

  • Paper (50%);

  • Abstract, oral presentation (20%).

In case of 5 EC: abstract (20%), oral presentation (30%), written examination (50%).


The final mark for the course is established by determining the weighted average.


If the overall mark is unsatisfactory, the student can either revise the paper or retake the examination (after consultation with the teacher). There is no resit for the oral presentation and participation. If the final mark is sufficient, the examination and paper cannot be retaken.


Not applicable.

Reading list

We will use the forthcoming Loeb edition of the Precratic philosophers and W.D. Ross edition of Aristotles’ Metaphysics. A syllabus will be provided by the teacher in the first class meeting.


Enrolment through uSis is mandatory.
General information about uSis is available in English and Dutch.

Registration Studeren à la carte and Contractonderwijs

Not applicable.




Dhr. Dr. L. (Leopoldo) Iribarren Baralt