PHIL 431 A: Philosophy of Plato

Spring 2022
TTh 10:30am - 12:20pm / SAV 130
Section Type:
Syllabus Description (from Canvas):

PHIL431 Philosophy of Plato

Spring 2022


Instructor: Anthony Fisher (; office hours on Zoom Monday 11am-1pm (and by appointment).

Class times: TTh 10:30am-12:20pm

Class location: SAV 130

Required text: Plato. 1997. Plato: Complete Works. Ed. John M. Cooper. Hackett. Other readings will be provided on Canvas.

Alternatively, you can buy the individual Hackett editions of the three dialogues:

Plato. 1992. Theaetetus. Ed. Bernard Williams. Trans. M.J. Levett, revised. Myles Burnyeat. Hackett.

Plato. 1996. Parmenides. Ed. Mary Louise Gill. Trans. Mary Louise Gill and Paul Ryan. Hackett.

Plato. 2000. Timaeus. Ed. Donald J. Zeyl. Trans. Donald J. Zeyl. Hackett.

Course description: This course is an in-depth study of Plato’s epistemology (study of knowledge), ontology (study of being), and cosmology (study of the physical world). We will examine three late Platonic dialogues: Theaetetus, Parmenides, and Timaeus. Questions that motivated Plato include: is truth relative or objective? what is the real definition of knowledge? what is being? what is becoming? how can we know being? what can we know through the senses? can the world of becoming be an object of understanding? what is a form such as Triangularity? how is a form related to its instances in the world of becoming? what is a unified whole? how is unity related to plurality? what is the most likely account of the origins of the universe? what was responsible for the universe to come about in the way that it did? what is the nature of time? We will discuss Plato’s answers to these questions (and others), attempting to uncover what he argued for and to evaluate his position. Along the way we will read secondary literature by contemporary scholars to aid in interpreting Plato but also to get a sense of how Plato is understood today.

Learning outcomes: On successful completion of the course, students will be able to demonstrate: i) a detailed understanding of the concepts, problems, and arguments that motivated Plato’s thought, ii) a thorough knowledge of the theories and arguments put forth by Plato, especially with respect to the theoretical concerns of Theaetetus, Parmenides, and Timaeus, and iii) an enhanced ability to critically examine philosophical texts from Ancient Greek philosophy, with an awareness of contemporary discussions about Plato’s philosophy.


Social annotation: 5% of final grade. For each reading you will be required to socially annotate the reading using in Canvas. We will go through comments in class. You must access the reading through Canvas when marking up the reading so that your work is recorded and graded properly. You are welcome to bring your copy of Plato to class or print out the pdfs of the readings.

Reading responses: 15% of final grade. One-page double-spaced reading responses to be posted on Canvas by the beginning of the second class, graded out of 2 points. For the first class or second class reading explain one of the author’s arguments and offer a critical evaluation of it. The argument you discuss must not come from class notes, class discussion, or material on Canvas. You must find an argument in the reading directly.

The reading response must have two sections:

  • Section 1: in one paragraph, explain one of the author’s arguments in detail. Do not summarise the reading. Do not simply describewhat the author is up to. Explain how the author argues for a certain conclusion. Think of yourself as teaching your reader.
  • Section 2: in one paragraph, critically evaluate the argument you have presented in section 1. For instance, you could explain why a premise of the argument is false, or raise a worry for a premise or an inference between premises or from premise to conclusion. You are permitted to raise a clarificatory question about the meaning of a term or phrase (e.g., that it is ambiguous) but this should be executed in a philosophical manner (e.g., if it is ambiguous, disambiguate and explain the distinct meanings). Just because you do not understand a term it does not imply that the term is meaningless or incoherent.

Do not quote from the text. Your task is to explain some argument or theory, not to repeat it. If you quote something, it is difficult to determine whether you have understood it. Your reading response should demonstrate some grasp of the author’s project. Your response should be wholly original. You should not consult outside sources.

Sample annotated reading response will be provided.

Group presentations: 10% of final grade. Each week in the second class there will be a presentation by the assigned group for that week. The presentation must be insightful, relevant, and philosophically interesting as well as generate discussion. One purpose of the presentation is to lead discussion for that portion of the class. Presentations can follow a similar format to that of the reading responses, with discussion questions given at the end of the presentation.

Points are lost for not giving a presentation. You need to sign up for a presentation group under the People menu in Canvas. Do this in the first two weeks of term. End of Week 3 you will be manually put into a group and the ability to self-sign-up will be turned off.

You are strongly encouraged to prepare a PowerPoint presentation. Your group will be allowed to use the classroom technology to present your PowerPoint.

Term paper: 40% of final grade. A philosophy paper has a distinctive argumentative structure that clearly articulates and argues for a specific thesis. A history of philosophy paper has a more specific argumentative structure that involves interpretation and reconstruction of an author’s argument(s) and an evaluation of that argument(s). Length: 4-5 pages, for both undergraduate and graduate students.

The term paper is to be submitted on Canvas and will be peer reviewed and blind graded; therefore, you must not include your name or ID number in the document anywhere or in the filename. Only .doc and .docx file extensions are accepted.

Term paper consists of the following elements:

  • Draft, 2%, graded credit/no credit
  • Peer review, 2%, graded credit/no credit
  • Final version of paper graded by Instructor, 36%, graded according to rubric.

Further instructions and grading criteria for each paper will be provided closer to the due dates.

Paper topics will be discussed later.

Final exam: 30% of final grade. Available during finals week. Students will be given certain passages from Plato’s work (not necessarily material from the assigned texts) and instructed to reconstruct an argument of the relevant passage and explain its significance in his wider arguments and views.

5-credit variant: if you have opted for the extra 2 credits, you need to complete the above plus write an extra 3 page paper halfway throughout the term, due end of week 5. This paper has no draft and peer review element. Speak to me about this at the start of term if you have chosen the extra 2 credits.

Writing credit: Passing this course is enough to earn a W credit.


Late work: Late work is not accepted. Exceptions are made only for personal and medical emergencies when documentation is provided. Let me know in advance if you have having trouble!

Conversion: A conversion scale (to the 4.0 system) will be chosen at the end of the quarter, based on the usual grade distribution for classes like this. On any chosen 4.0 conversion scale, however, 96% and above will be sufficient for a 4.0, and 60% and above will be sufficient for passing the course, where ‘passing’ just means achieving a 0.7 or higher on the 4.0 system.

Plagiarism: Plagiarism on any assignment will be reported to CSSC and penalised. It is your responsibility to know what counts as plagiarism. It is easy to avoid plagiarism in this class. See the department-wide policies for more on plagiarism.

Class expectations: Each student will have read the reading actively and critically. Active reading means taking notes, underlining text, summarising relevant passages, etc. Critical reading means argumentatively engaging with the author, questioning a premise or a conclusion in some argument, or raising queries or finding something that seems implausible or introducing a relevant consideration that has been overlooked, or identifying an unclear word or phrase or concept. Each student should write out answers to the reading questions and come up with their own questions. In the case of leading class discussion, the student will have prepared discussion questions and lead discussion by introducing the topic and posing questions.

Course expectations: The class is not identical with the course. The class is one part of the course. The other parts of the course involve each student reading the material before class and after class. A student’s understanding of the content of the course should not rest entirely on what unfolds in class. A student should not draw their sole understanding of the material from class, class discussion, class notes, or class handouts and other related material.

Please see the department-wide policies page for further policies and resources.

Course schedule:

Week 1: Introduction and Theaetetus

Tue 29 Mar: Middle Plato on knowledge and reality

[background]: Meno 80d-87c (recollection), 96d-100c (knowledge versus true opinion); Phaedo 72e-77d (recollection again), 95e-103c (forms qua causes); Republic V 475d-480a (knowledge versus opinion again), VI 504e-511e (the form of the Good), VII 514a-519b (the allegory of the cave), 523a-525b (perception)

Thu 31 Mar: Initial definition, epistemic relativism and first definition

Theaetetus 142a-151d [12pgs] & 151d-160e [11pgs]

Week 2: First definition of knowledge assessed

Tue 5 Apr: Against Protagoras

Theaetetus 160e-171d [12pgs] & 171d-179c [8pgs]

Thu 7 Apr: Against Heraclitus and final objection against first definition

Theaetetus 179c-184b [5pgs] & 184b-186e [2pgs]; John Cooper, (1970) ‘Plato on sense-perception and knowledge (Theaetetus 184-186)’

Week 3: Second definition: knowledge as true judgement

Tue 12 Apr: Problem of false judgement

Theaetetus 187a-191a [5pgs] & 200d-201c [2pgs]

Thu 14 Apr: Wax tablet and aviary

Theaetetus 191a-200d [11pgs]; John Ackrill, (1966) ‘Plato on false belief: Theaetetus 187-200’

Week 4: Third definition

Tue 19 Apr: Knowledge as true judgement and account

Theaetetus 201c-206b [6pgs]; Naly Thaler, (2011) ‘Taking the syllable apart: The Theaetetus on elements and knowledge’

Thu 21 Apr: Analysis of ‘account’

Theaetetus 206b-210d [5pgs]

Week 5: Parmenides

Tue 26 Apr: Theory of the forms

Parmenides 126a-131e [6pgs]; Verity Harte, (2002) Plato on Parts and Wholes, ch. 2

Thu 28 Apr: Infinite regress and the question of idealism

Parmenides 131e-133a [4pgs]; Constance Meinwald, (1992) ‘Good-bye to the Third Man’

                Sun 1 May: 2 credit paper due (for those doing the 5-credit variant)

Week 6: The greatest difficulty for forms and transition to second part

Tue 3 May: Greatest difficulty for forms and unknowability

Parmenides 133a-134e [2pgs]

Thu 5 May: Transition

Parmenides 134e-137c [5pgs] (term paper topics distributed)

Week 7: The One and the Many

Tue 10 May: Unity and plurality

Parmenides 137c-149e [12pgs];                 Mary Margaret McCabe, (1996) ‘Unity in the Parmenides’

Thu 12 May: Unity and plurality contd.

Parmenides 149e-166c [16pgs];                 Mary Louise Gill, (2014) ‘Design of the exercise in Plato’s Parmenides’

Week 8: Timaeus

Tue 17 May: Being and becoming; knowing nature

Timaeus 27a-29d [3pgs]; Sarah Broadie, (2012) Nature and Divinity in Plato’s Timaeus, ch. 2.

Thu 19 May: The world: body, soul, and time

Timaeus 29d-39e [8pgs]

Week 9: Becoming God-like and the nature of human beings

Tue 24 May: The good Gods

Timaeus 17a-26e [10pgs] & 39e-42e [4pgs]; Sarah Broadie, (2012) Nature and Divinity in Plato’s Timaeus, ch. 4.

Thu 26 May: Humans and the senses

Timaeus 42a-47e [6pgs] (draft of term paper due)

Week 10: Generating the universe

Tue 31 May: Candidate causes: Reason, necessity, and the receptacle

Timaeus 47a-52d [7pgs]; Mary Louise Gill, (1987) ‘Matter and Flux in Plato’s Timaeus

Thu 2 Jun: The elements and physico-mathematical relation

Timaeus 52d-61c [9pgs]; Verity Harte, (2010) ‘The Receptacle and the Primary Bodies: Something from Nothing?’ (peer review of term paper due)

                Sun 5 Jun: term paper due

Finals: 4-10 Jun: final exam due at end of finals week.

Grades due: 14 Tue Jun by 5pm


Information for Students

University of Washington, Department of Philosophy

Policies and Resources

Academic Misconduct

Academic misconduct, including plagiarism, is prohibited by the Student Conduct Code for the University of Washington (Links to an external site.) and is taken very seriously by the UW. According to the student conduct code, academic misconduct includes:

  1. "Cheating" which includes, but is not limited to:
    1. The use of unauthorized assistance in taking quizzes, tests, or examinations, or completing assignments;
    2. The acquisition, use, or distribution of unpublished materials created by another student without the express permission of the original author(s);
    3. Using online sources, such as solution manuals, without the permission of the instructor to complete assignments, exams, tests, or quizzes; or
    4. Requesting, hiring, or otherwise encouraging someone to take a course, exam, test, or complete assignments for a student.
  2. "Falsification," which is the intentional use or submission of falsified data, records, or other information including, but not limited to, records of internship or practicum experiences or attendance at any required event(s), or scholarly research.
  3. "Plagiarism," which is the submission or presentation of someone else's words, composition, research, or expressed ideas, whether published or unpublished, without attribution. Plagiarism includes, but is not limited to:
    1. The use, by paraphrase or direct quotation, of the published or unpublished work of another person without full and clear acknowledgment; or
    2. The unacknowledged use of materials prepared by another person or acquired from an entity engaging in the selling of term papers or other academic materials.
  4. Unauthorized collaboration.
  5. Engaging in behavior specifically prohibited by an instructor in the course of class instruction or in a course syllabus.
  6. Multiple submissions of the same work in separate courses without the express permission of the instructor(s).
  7. Taking deliberate action to destroy or damage another's academic work in order to gain an advantage for oneself or another.
  8. The recording of instructional content without the express permission of the instructor(s), unless approved as a disability accommodation, and/or the dissemination or use of such unauthorized records.

(Source: WAC 478-121 - Academic Misconduct (Links to an external site.))

Plagiarism may lead to disciplinary action by the University against the student who submitted the work. Any student who is uncertain whether his or her use of the work of others constitutes plagiarism should consult the course instructor for guidance before formally submitting the course work involved.


Incomplete grades may only be awarded if a student is doing satisfactory work up until the last two weeks of the quarter and has furnished proof satisfactory to the instructor that the work cannot be completed because of illness or other circumstances beyond the student’s control. (Sources: Office of the Registrar – Incomplete Grades (Links to an external site.)), UW General Catalog, Student Guide – Grading System (Links to an external site.))

Grade Appeal Procedure

A student who believes that the instructor erred in the assignment of a grade, or who believes a grade recoding error or omission has occurred, shall first discuss the matter with the instructor before the end of the following academic quarter (not including Summer Quarter). If the student is not satisfied with the instructor’s explanation, the student, no later than ten days after their discussion with the instructor, may submit a written appeal to the chair of the Department of Philosophy with a copy of the appeal also sent to the instructor. The chair consults with the instructor to ensure that the evaluation of the student’s performance has not been arbitrary or capricious. Should the chair believe the instructor’s conduct to be arbitrary or capricious and the instructor declines to revise the grade, the chair, with the approval of the voting members of his or her faculty, shall appoint an appropriate member, or members, of the faculty of the Department of Philosophy to evaluate the performance of the student and assign a grade. The Dean and Provost should be informed of this action. Once a student submits a written appeal, this document and all subsequent actions on this appeal are recorded in written form for deposit in a School file. (Source: UW General Catalog, Student Guide – Grading System (Links to an external site.))

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If you have any concerns about a teaching assistant, please see the teaching assistant about these concerns as soon as possible. If you are not comfortable talking with the teaching assistant or not satisfied with the response that you receive, you may contact the instructor in charge of the course. If you are still not satisfied with the response that you receive, you may contact the chair of the program offering the course (names available from the Department of Philosophy, 361 Savery Hall), or the Graduate School at G-1 Communications Building (543-5900).

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Access and Accommodations

Your experience in this class is important to the instructor. If you have already established accommodations with Disability Resources for Students (DRS), please communicate your approved accommodations to the instructor at your earliest convenience so you can discuss your needs in this course.

If you have not yet established services through DRS, but have a temporary health condition or permanent disability that requires accommodations (conditions include but are not limited to: mental health, attention-related, learning, vision, hearing, physical or health impacts), you are welcome to contact DRS at 206-543-8924 (Voice & Relay) or or  (Links to an external site.)DRS offers resources and coordinates reasonable accommodations for students with disabilities and/or temporary health conditions. Reasonable accommodations are established through an interactive process between you, your instructor(s) and DRS. It is the policy and practice of the University of Washington to create inclusive and accessible learning environments consistent with federal and state law.

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Sexual harassment is defined as the use of one’s authority or power, either explicitly or implicitly, to coerce another into unwanted sexual relations or to punish another for his or her refusal, or as the creation by a member of the University community of an intimidating, hostile, or offensive working or educational environment through verbal or physical conduct of a sexual nature.

If you believe that you are being harassed, seek help—the earlier the better. You may speak with your instructor, your teaching assistant, the undergraduate advisor (363 Savery Hall), graduate program advisor (366 Savery Hall), or the chair of the philosophy department (364 Savery Hall). In addition, you should be aware that the University has designated special people to help you. For assistance you may contact: SafeCampusOffice of the Ombud (Links to an external site.) (339 HUB, 206-543-6028); Title IX Investigation Office (Links to an external site.) (for complaints that a University student has violated the sexual misconduct provisions of the Student Conduct Code); University Complaint Investigation and Resolution Office (Links to an external site.) (for complaints concerning the behavior of University employees, including faculty, teaching assistants, and other student employees).


The Office of Research Misconduct Proceedings (ORMP) coordinates the University’s handling of allegations of research misconduct against members of the University community, in consultations and cooperation with the University’s schools, colleges, and campuses.

University rules define scientific and scholarly misconduct to include the following forms of inappropriate activity: intentional misrepresentation of credentials; falsification of data; plagiarism; abuse of confidentiality; deliberate violation of regulations applicable to research.

Students can report cases of scientific or scholarly misconduct either to the ORMP, to their faculty adviser, or the department chair. The student should report such problems to whomever he or she feels most comfortable.

(Sources: Executive Order No. 61 – Research Misconduct Policy (Links to an external site.)Office of Research Misconduct Proceedings (Links to an external site.); minutes of Grad School Executive Staff and Division Heads meeting, 7/23/98.)


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SafeCampus staff will listen to your concerns and provide support and safety plans tailored to your situation. Caring, trained professionals will talk you through options and connect you with additional resources if you want them.

If you're concerned, tell someone.

  • Always call 911 if you or others may be in danger.
  • Call 206-685-SAFE (7233) to report non-urgent threats of violence and for referrals to UW counseling and/or safety resources. TTY or VP callers, please call through your preferred relay service.
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Religious Accommodations

Washington state law requires that UW develop a policy for accommodation of student absences or significant hardship due to reasons of faith or conscience, or for organized religious activities. The UW’s policy, including more information about how to request an accommodation, is available at Religious Accommodations Policy ( (Links to an external site.). Accommodations must be requested within the first two weeks of this course using the Religious Accommodations Request form ( (Links to an external site.).

Food Insecurity and Hardship

Any student who has difficulty affording groceries or accessing sufficient food to eat every day, or who lacks a safe and stable place to live and believes this may affect their performance in the course, is urged to contact the UW Any Hungry Husky Program. Any Hungry Husky provides hunger relief free of judgment or stigma. Go to (Links to an external site.) for information about the food pantry and food security grants. In addition, UW offers emergency aid for students experiencing unexpected financial hardships that may disrupt their education or get in the way of completing their degree. Go to (Links to an external site.) for more information about how to apply.

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If, as a UW student, you are living outside of the United States while taking courses remotely, you are subject to the laws of your local jurisdiction. Local authorities may limit your access to course material and take punitive action towards you. Unfortunately, the University of Washington has no authority over the laws in your jurisdictions or how local authorities enforce those laws.

If you are taking UW courses outside of the United States, you have reason to exercise caution when enrolling in courses that cover topics and issues censored in your jurisdiction. If you have concerns regarding a course or courses that you have registered for, please contact your academic advisor who will assist you in exploring options.

Face Coverings and Social Distancing in the Classroom during COVID

The health and safety of the University of Washington community are the institution’s priorities. Until otherwise stated face coverings are required per UW COVID Face Covering Policy (Links to an external site.): indoors where other people are present and outdoors when keeping a 6-foot distance may not be possible. This includes all classrooms and buildings/public spaces on each of the UW campuses.

If you physically can’t wear a mask, you choose not to wear a mask, your mask isn’t appropriate/sufficient, or if you aren’t wearing a mask properly (covering both your nose and mouth-diagram below), you CANNOT be in the classroom and will be asked to leave.

If you have a medical condition or health risk as outlined in the UW COVID Face Covering Policy (Links to an external site.), you may request an accommodation. Please contact Disability Resources for Students office BEFORE GOING TO CLASS at (Seattle) (Tacoma) (Bothell).

A face covering must:

  • Fit snugly against the sides of the face
  • Completely cover the nose and mouth
  • Be secured with ties, ear loops, elastic bands, or other equally effective method
  • Include at least one layer of cloth, although multiple layers are strongly recommended
  • Allow for breathing without restriction
  • Be capable of being laundered and machine dried without damage or change to shape

CDC: How to Wear Masks

Catalog Description:
Study of selected middle and late dialogues.
GE Requirements Met:
Social Sciences (SSc)
Writing (W)
Last updated:
April 9, 2024 - 9:08 pm