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Plato's Timaeus and Critias. Cosmology and History in Defense of Political Utopia


Admission requirements

Admission to one of the following programmes is required:

  • MA Philosophy 60 EC: History and Philosophy of the Sciences

  • MA Philosophy 60 EC: Ethics and Politics

  • MA Philosophy 60 EC: Philosophical Anthropology and Philosophy of Culture

  • MA Classics and Ancient Civilizations: Classics


The Timaeus is Plato’s most influential dialogue: its curious mix of cosmology, biology and human anatomy has captivated the minds of many Western philosophers and theologians. It is often read together with a shorter, unfinished dialogue entitled Critias, which holds a version of the legendary war of Athens against Atlantis. Both dialogues served to corroborate the ambitious utopia Plato had laid out in his Republic where he presented an ideal political community led by a Philosopher-King and his Guardians who excel in justice and other virtues.

In this seminar we read the Timaeus and Critias from the perspective of the Republic: which doubts about the feasibility of the Republic utopia do these dialogues aim at refuting? To what extent can cosmology, biology or history support an ethical-political ideal? How successful was Plato’s strategy?

Course objectives

This course aims to:

  • provide a thorough knowledge of the aims, structure and arguments of Plato’s Timaeus and Critias;

  • reconstruct the contemporary debate on Athenian politics to which Plato was responding;

  • compare the role of cosmology, biology and history in later discussions about political ideals, both in Antiquity and afterwards.

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

  • Plato’s Timaeus, Critias and relevant parts of the Republic;

  • arguments from cosmology, biology and history in political debates.

Students who successfully complete the course will be able to:

  • interpret Plato’s political philosophy and the debate it spawned in its ancient context;

  • analyse a variety of non-political arguments in support of political ideals.


The timetable is available on the following website:

Mode of instruction

  • Seminars

Class attendance is required.

Course load

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

  • Attending seminars (3 hours x 13 weeks): 39 hours

  • Preparation seminars: 13 × 6 = 78 hours

  • Preparation class presentation of 25-30 minutes: 40 hours

  • Research and writing final paper: 123 hours

Assessment method


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

  • Final paper (75%)

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


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


The resit covers the following exam components: revised version of the final paper (75%)
The grade for other exam component (presentation) remains in place.

Class participation, attendance, and completion of practical assignments such as the oral presentation is a mandatory requirement for taking the resit.
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.


Blackboard will be used for:

  • instruction and communication

  • sharing additional materials, PowerPoints and bibliography

Reading list

An English translation of Plato’s Timaeus, Critias and Republic, e.g.:

  • Cooper, John M. and D.S. Hutchinson, eds. Plato. Complete Works. Indianapolis/Cambridge: Hackett Publishing Company, 1997.

  • Plato. Timaeus and Critias. edited by Robin Waterfield. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2008.

  • Plato. Republic. Translated by Robin Waterfield. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1993.


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.


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


Not applicable.