PHI217 - Plato

The Philosopher and Mathematician A N Whitehead once characterized western thought as a "series of footnotes to Plato". The thought of Plato and his teacher Socrates, who both lived in Greece around 400 years before the start of the Christian era, set the agenda for much subsequent philosophy and did much to define our ideas of what philosophy is. This course will introduce students to the study of the philosophy of Plato through a close and critical study of some of the most important dialogues in English translation.


In this course we will study the following dialogue of Plato:


It is available in numerous translations. The best is perhaps that of M. J. Levett. It is published by Hackett in an edition that also contains a long commentary by Miles Burnyeat. This is probably the most useful book for this course. I recommend buying it.

There is another excellent translation in the OUP’s Clarendon Plato Series by John McDowell which contains a very useful detailed commentary. (McDowell’s translation is also used in the Oxford World’s Classics.

F. M. Cornford: Plato’s Theory of Knowledge

Also contains a translation as well as a commentary. The commentary is rather old now but a classic and of great value.

I advise you not to reply on translations you find on the internet. People always tend to post Benjamin Jowett’s translation because as it was published in 1871 this is out of copyright. But it is also 146 years old!

Two other excellent commentaries are:

David Bostock: Plato’s Theaetetus
David Sedley: The Midwife of Platonism: Text and Subtext in Plato’s Theaetetus

Other notable recent monographs are:

Timothy Chappell: Reading Pato’s Theaetetus
Paul Stern: Knowledge and Politics in Plato’s Theaetetus

Some very good essays on the Theaetetus are to be found in:

Gail Fine: Plato on Knowledge and Forms

Mi-Kyoung Lee: Epistemology After Protagoras

Is an important (and quite difficult) book on relativism in Greek philosophy. The first 5 chapters are very directly relevant to the Theaetetus.

Two books which give magisterial accounts of Plato’s philosophy as a whole that you might usefully consult are:
W. C. K. Guthrie: A History of Greek Philosophy, vols. 4 and 5.
I. M. Crombie: An Examination of Plato’s Doctrines

If you are interested in the historical background you could try:

J. W Roberts: City of Sokrates; An Introduction to Classical Athens
Joint Association of Classical Teachers: The World of Athens; An Introduction to Classical Athenian Culture

Most useful of all by way of background is to read other texts from classical Greece, such as the plays of Sophocles and Euripides or the historical writings of Thucydides and Xenophon. Especially useful – and entertaining - would be to read the plays of Aristophanes and especially his Clouds.

As more specific and philosophical background reading to the Theaetetus I strongly recommend you read these two earlier works by Plato




2 mini essays (500 words) [10%], one essay [30%], one exam [2 questions - 30% each]


James Lenman