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Alexander of Aphrodisias On Fate, or How Human Beings Escape Determinism


Admission requirements

Admission to one of the following programmes is required:

  • MA Philosophy 60 EC: specialization History and Philosophy of the Science, Ethics and Politics, or Philosophical Anthropology and Philosophy of Culture

  • MA Philosophy 120 EC: specialization Philosophy of Humanities, Philosophy of Natural Sciences, or Philosophy of Psychology.


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 De fato and relevant parts of other works of Alexander, reconstruct and assess the arguments, and compare them to later arguments in the history of philosophy up to our day.

Course objectives

This course aims to:

  • provide a thorough knowledge of the aims, structure and arguments of Alexander’s De fato;

  • reconstruct the ancient debate on fate and determinism from the arguments Alexander provides;

  • compare this debate with later and contemporary discussions.

Students who successfully complete the course will have a good understanding of:

  • the aims, structure and arguments of Alexander’s De fato in the context of his philosophy and his time;

  • the ancient debate on fate and determinism, including its cosmological, psychological and ethical underpinnings;

  • the modes of reception of Alexander’s text and arguments in later philosophy.

Students who successfully complete the course will be able to:

  • interpret Alexander’s De fato and the arguments it offers in the context of Alexander’s philosophy and his time;

  • recognize and assess the main arguments in the debate on fate and determinism in the history of philosophy


The timetable is available on the MA Philosophy website
MA Philosophy 60 EC, or MA Philosophy 120 EC

Mode of instruction

  • Seminar

Class attendance is required.

Course Load

Total course load: 10 EC x 28 hours = 280 hours

  • Attending seminars (3 hours x 14 weeks): 42 hours

  • Preparation seminars: 13 × 6 = 78 hours

  • Preparation class presentation of 20-30 minutes: 48 hours

  • Research and writing final paper: 120 hours

  • Individual coaching: 4 hours

Assessment method

  • Oral presentation (20-30 minutes) with PowerPoint (25%)

  • Final paper (75%)


The final mark for the course is established by determination of the weighted average of several subtests (presentation, final paper). A subtest can be graded as unsatisfactory.

Class preparation and attendance are required and are conditions for submission of the paper.


The resit will consists of one examination, a paper. The mark will replace all previously earned marks for subtests. No separate resits will be offered for mid-term tests. Class preparation and attendance are required and are conditions for submission of the paper for the resit. Students who have obtained a satisfactory grade for the first examination(s) cannot take the resit.


Blackboard will be used for:

  • instruction and communication

  • sharing additional materials, PowerPoints and bibliography.

Reading list

Basic to the course is:

  • R.W. Sharples, Alexander of Aphrodisias on Fate, London: Duckworth 1983. (translation with introduction and detailed commentary of De fato and relevant portions of Alexander’s work, with the Greek texts in appendix).

A full bibliography will be posted on Blackboard.
For a 22 minute introduction to Alexander see Peter Adamson’s podcast.


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

Students are strongly advised to register in uSis through the activity number which can be found in the timetables for and exams in the column under the heading “uSis-Actnbr”.

Registration Studeren à la carte and Contractonderwijs

Not applicable.


Prof.dr. F.A.J. de Haas


Not applicable.