PHIL 421, Section 001
Spring 2004 M 4:30 - 7:10 PM
SEMINAR IN PHILOSOPHY: PLATO
Sophists, Eleatics, Rhetoric, and Philosophy
This image comes from the superb Perseus
web site. In the dialogues we will read, Socrates, Gorgias, Protagoras,
and the Eleatic Stranger talk quite a lot about hunting, fishing, cooking,
and the arts associated with fire.
Instructor: Prof. Cherubin
Office: Robinson B462
Office Hours: M 3:00 - 4:00,
W 12:00 - 1:00 and 3:00 - 4:00 PM; further times available by appointment
This course will study three works of Plato: Gorgias, Protagoras,
and Sophist. These three works are connected through their concern
with the practices, works, and speeches associated with the people who
were called sophists (sophistai), and the practices, works, and
speeches associated with the people who were called philosophers (philosophoi).
The work of the Eleatic thinkers Parmenides and Zeno is addressed directly
in the Sophist and indirectly in the other two dialogues. As we will see,
there are certain similarities and connections among these groups. For
example, the sophists, the Eleatics, and Socrates all used deductive arguments;
and all argued that certain fundamental common beliefs led to contradictions
or paradoxes. What, then, are the differences? What do these differences
mean? The differences have consequences for the possibility of knowledge
of what is, as well as for the possibility of a just society. One focus
of the course will be the relationships among communication, knowledge,
A guiding question will be that of why Plato wrote these three works: What
did he think was important about the sophists and the Eleatics? What problems
and questions did he explore regarding them? What if any conclusions or
discoveries did he reach?
In this seminar we will approach Plato by a close reading of what is actually
in the texts, without beginning from certain common and problematic presuppositions
about what should be in the texts. These presuppositions include the assumption
that Plato always intends in his work to present and espouse a doctrine;
that the statements made by some character in each dialogue represent all
and only that which Plato wants us to learn from the dialogue; the assumption
that Plato’s conclusions are for the most part unconditional and therefore
are meant to be applicable across all contexts; and the assumption that
Plato always intends to provide (or believes he is providing) an accurately
detailed or verbatim account of historical conversations.
As in all sections of PHIL 421, students are expected to have completed
at least 9 credits in philosophy. Students with fewer than 9 credits in
philosophy may be admitted to the course with permission of the instructor.
This course is designated as a writing-intensive (WI) course.
The course aims to give students a background in Plato’s work on learning,
virtue/excellence (arete), rhetoric, justice, and the nature and goals
of philosophy. We will focus on primary sources. Students will develop
skill in reading ancient philosophical texts closely and critically; in
writing both analytically and constructively; and in assessing secondary
sources. Students will also investigate whether or to what extent
the questions, ideas, and ways of thinking developed by ancient philosophers
may be used to address issues of present-day significance; and they will
learn to assess, criticize constructively, and further develop these ancient
By the end of the semester students
should be able to use e-mail; to use on-line library catalogs and other
library databases including but not limited to Philosopher’s Index;
to find reserve and non-reserve materials such as books and journal articles;
to use word-processing programs such as WordPerfect or Word to format documents
with correct margins and (if needed) footnotes or endnotes; to be able
to access documents on the course web site, on other web sites, and on
the GMU electronic reserve system.
1. Plato, Gorgias. Trans. Zeyl. Hackett. Required.
2. Plato, Protagoras. Trans. Taylor. Oxford. Required.
3. Plato, Sophist. Trans. White. Hackett. Required.
All of these should be available
in the GMU Bookstore. If you already own other translations, you may use
them; please bring up in class any ways in which these translations differ
from the ones ordered for the class, as these differences can be instructive.
4. Photocopy, “Eleatics and Sophists,” consisting of translations of the
work of Parmenides, Zeno, Melissus, Protagoras, and Gorgias. This will
be distributed on the first day of class. Required.
5. Kerferd, The Sophistic Movement. Recommended but not required.
6. Some additional short texts (original translations, supplements to lecture
notes, etc.) will be made available on the course web site.
7. Further readings, some but not all of them required, will be placed
on reserve, either in the Johnson Center Library or on electronic reserve.
8. Some supplementary materials in the form of journal articles will be
found either in the Periodicals Section of Fenwick Library, or in on-line
Please check our
course web site, including the reading
assignments page, at least once per week to see new postings and links
concerning supporting materials (recommended readings, things you might
find useful in your papers, etc.).
Unless otherwise noted, class sessions begin at 4:30 PM. Students are expected
to come to each class session having read the material assigned for that
day, and prepared to discuss it or to ask thoughtful questions about it.
Thoughtful class participation is expected. Please bring to class each
day the text(s) we will be discussing that day.
you don’t have questions you haven’t done the reading.
1. Four short papers (about 5 pages each).
Each week, I will assign either
an exegesis (a passage of text to explicate) or a question or both. Each
week you should select a maximum of one of these passages to explicate
OR one question to answer. Your response should be about 5 pages in length
(4 full pages minimum, 6 maximum). Each paper will be due in class the
week after it is assigned. In other words, some weeks you will explicate
one passage, some weeks you will answer one question, and some weeks you
will do neither. Everyone, however, is to do the first week’s writing assignment.
(If you choose to do more than 4 short papers, I will count the 4 highest
2. One longer semester paper (about 15 pages). The final version
of this paper will be handed in on the day scheduled as your final exam
day, May 10. An outline of this paper will be due March 1, and a rough
draft will be due on April 5. There is no final exam for this course.
Please do not submit assignments
via e-mail. Attachments frequently fail to open, and material that is pasted
into the body of an e-mail message sometimes comes through with pieces
of text missing.
The short papers taken together will account for 60% of your grade. The
longer semester paper will account for 40% of your grade. Regular
and thoughtful class participation is helpful to your grade, especially
in situations where your numerical average comes out in between two letter
To get an A on a paper, you need to: answer the question(s) correctly (there
may be several ways to do this); cover your topic thoroughly; follow all
instructions; explain how you came to your conclusions if any; support
your conclusions (if any) or explain why you have doubts; show your reasoning;
make no factual errors. To get an A+ you must do all the things that would
earn an A, in a way that shows a higher level of understanding and clarity
(for example, presenting an especially comprehensive explanation or an
especially detailed analysis or an especially nuanced conclusion).
A paper that gets a B is one that gets most parts of the question(s) right,
but makes some noticeable and relevant factual error OR does not answer
the question(s) completely (leaves out something fairly important) OR makes
a relevant error in answering the question OR makes a relevant error in
reasoning or in understanding of the point or text studied OR does not
show the student's understanding or reasoning OR comes to unexplained conclusions.
A paper that gets a C is one that answers the question somewhat, but leaves
out crucial points OR makes several significant factual errors OR
includes little explanation or shows little reasoning OR combines several
of the problems mentioned in the paragraph on 'B' papers and exams OR is
not written clearly enough to convey your understanding of certain important
A paper that gets a D shows minimal understanding of the texts OR covers
little of the question(s) correctly OR makes major factual errors that
undermine your answers OR is so unclear that I can only tell whether a
few parts are right OR includes no explanations.
A paper will get an F if it covers less than 60% of the question(s) or
topic correctly OR if it does not address the question(s) OR if it is so
unclear that I cannot tell what you are saying.
Grades of A-, B+, B-, C+, etc. will also be given. An A- paper is between
an A paper and a B paper but closer to an A paper; a B+ paper is between
an A paper and a B paper but closer to a B paper, etc.
As required by University policy, a letter grade of A+ is equivalent to
a numerical grade of 4.0; a grade of A is also equivalent to a numerical
grade of 4.0; a grade of A- is equivalent to a 3.67; a B+ is equivalent
to a 3.33; a B is equivalent to a 3.0; etc.
For a full listing of the University?s policy for converting letter grades
into numerical grades to compute your GPA (grade-point average), see the
University Catalog online at http://www.gmu.edu/catalog/apolicies/examsgrades.html
Policy concerning required work
that is not submitted: Any required assignment that you do not submit
by the time that the last assignment is due will receive a grade of F,
unless you have requested a grade of IN.
Policy concerning grades of IN
(incomplete): Grades of IN will be given only in either of the following
(1) If you request a grade of IN at least 24 hours before the last assignment
is due, OR
(2) If a sudden emergency arises less than 24 hours before the assignment
is due AND you can provide documentation of this emergency (for example,
a note from a doctor in cases of medical emergency, a receipt from a mechanic
in cases of car breakdown, etc.).
If you do not request a grade of IN and cannot provide documentation of
emergency, you will receive a grade of F for each assignment that is missing.
Special situations: If you
have a learning disability, physical disability, or other condition that
requires that you receive modified assignments, note-takers, extended time
for assignments, etc., please get the proper documentation from the Disabled
Students Office to me as soon as possible, so that we can set up appropriate
arrangements. If you have any other special situation (a temporary
medical condition, for example) that requires that you receive modified
assignments, extended assignment time, etc., please get the proper documentation
to me as soon as possible so that we can set up appropriate arrangements.
Please take a moment (before or after class, in office hours, etc.) to
make sure I understand exactly what you will need. Do not wait until just
before the due date of the final assignment to do this; if you wait too
long, there may not be time to set up the arrangements you need.
Honor Code policy: You are
responsible for knowing, understanding, and obeying the University Honor
Code and the Honor Code Statement for this course. For details please see
the Honor Code Statement attached at the end of this syllabus (see below).
The policy for this class is in accordance with University policy as outlined
in the online University Catalog at http://www.gmu.edu/catalog/apolicies/honor.html.
If you have any questions, please ask your instructor.
Please note that this schedule may change slightly should that become necessary.
Any changes that occur will be announced as soon as the instructor knows
of them. Please check the schedule of readings on the web site regularly
This schedule lists the parts of Plato’s texts on which lecture and discussion
will focus each day. Since Plato did not divide the works into sections,
and the dialogues present essentially continuous action or speech, the
parts cannot justly be studied in isolation from one another or from the
wholes of which they are parts. Therefore it is strongly recommended that
you read the whole of each dialogue at least once by the second week in
which it is under discussion (for example, it is a good idea to read the
whole Gorgias at least once by February 9.) Then go over the specific part
assigned for the week.
Periodically throughout the semester you will be asked to go over some
part of the “Eleatics and Sophists” photocopy in conjunction with the Plato
Jan. 26: Introduction
March 15: Semester paper
outline due (note change from date originally specified)
- end; Protagoras 309a - 320c
Feb. 2: Gorgias 447a
Feb. 9: Gorgias 461b
Feb. 16: Gorgias 480b
Feb. 23: Gorgias 495b
March 1: Gorgias 509c
March 22: Protagoras
320c - 338e
March 29: Protagoras
339a - 352d
April 5: Protagoras
352d - end; sophists, Eleatics, philosophy, rhetoric, and what is; Sophist
216a - 218c
April 5: Semester paper rough
April 12: Sophist 218c
April 19: Sophist
234a - 246a
April 26: Sophist
246a - 258c
May 3: Sophist 258c
May 10: Semester paper due
Important Dates this Semester
Last day to add classes: Feb. 3
Last day to drop classes with no
tuition liability: Feb. 3
Last day to drop classes: Feb. 20
Spring Break: March 7 - 14
Last class meeting for this course:
Last day of classes: May 3
Semester paper due date: May 10
This course is conducted in accordance
with the GMU Honor Code, as outlined in the University Catalog. See also
the online version of the most recent catalog; the University Honor Code
policy is at http://www.gmu.edu/catalog/apolicies/honor.html.
Each student is to do his or her
own work; collaboration on required written assignments (exams, papers,
etc.) is not permitted.
All answers on exams and papers must
be in the student's own words.1 Short
quotations from the class texts or from other sources may be used, provided
that all quotations are properly attributed (you must cite the author's
name, the title of the source, and the page number or URL if any). If you
do not know how to do this, please see your instructor and I will be glad
to help you.
The University Catalog includes
under the heading 'Plagiarism' two kinds of thing. First is “[p]resenting
as one?s own the words, the work, or the opinions of someone else without
proper acknowledgment.” This means that if you quote from any source
without giving proper credit (as described above) to that source, what
you have done counts as plagiarism, and will not be permitted. By 'source',
I mean printed material, electronic material (information from internet
sites, e-mail, etc.), films, videotapes, audiotapes, radio, television,
human beings other than yourself, or any other presenter of verbal information.
If you have any question as to whether what you are doing constitutes quotation
from a source, or if you are unsure about how to quote a source or how
to give proper credit, please see your instructor.
The second kind of plagiarism
outlined in the Catalog is “[b]orrowing the sequence of ideas, the arrangement
of material, or the pattern of thought of someone else without proper acknowledgment.”
This means that if you take a passage from something you have read, and
change a few of the words - without changing the meaning - and then claim
that these ideas are yours (or simply fail to mention whose they are),
that is also plagiarism, and is not permitted. There is nothing wrong with
quoting (briefly) from sources; just acknowledge when you do it. If a source
you find says exactly what you yourself think, show why you think it is
correct. As long as you explain this in your own words, there is no problem.
If you have any questions about what counts as 'borrowing the sequence
of ideas...,' please see your instructor, and I will be glad to help.
Both kinds of plagiarism are forbidden
According to the GMU Honor Code,
“cheating encompasses the following: (1) The willful giving or receiving
of an unauthorized, unfair, dishonest, or unscrupulous advantage in academic
work over other students.
(2) The above may be accomplished by any means whatsoever, including, but
not limited to, the following: fraud, duress, deception, theft, trick,
talking, signs, gestures, copying from another student, and the unauthorized
use of study aids, memoranda, books, data or other information.
(3) Attempted Cheating.”
All such cheating and attempted
cheating are forbidden at GMU. Since required assignments for this
course specify that students are not to collaborate, any collaboration
between students in the writing of required assignments will be considered
to be a case of giving and receiving of “unauthorized and unfair advantage
in academic work over other students.”
Penalties/Responses to Plagiarism
A. On assignments other than the final exam or final assignment.
If there is evidence that a student has collaborated with others,
or evidence that a student as presented others' words or sequences
of ideas as his or her own, that student's paper or exam will be invalidated,
and the student will be required to do the paper or exam again in a satisfactory
manner in order to receive credit. (In the case of mid-semester exams,
the student may be given alternate exam questions.) No credit will be given
until the work is re-submitted satisfactorily.
B. On the final exam or final assignment. If there is evidence
that a student has collaborated with others or has presented others' words
or sequences of ideas as his or her own, the case will be reported to the
Honor Committee. No credit will be given unless the case is resolved with
a finding of "Not Guilty".
By 'evidence' I mean something in writing that clearly shows proof of plagiarism
or illegitimate collaboration. For example, if two students submit identically-worded
answers; if two students hand in assignments written in the same handwriting
when they have previously had different handwritings (if you are injured
and suddenly cannot write, let me know of this before making arrangements
for another student to “help you”!); if a student submits a paper which
I find to consist substantially of material copied from a book or web site
without attribution and I can get hold of a copy of the book or can download
pages from the web site -- all of these are cases where I would say that
there is evidence of an Honor Code violation. If there is any question
in my mind, I will speak to the student(s) involved before making the determination
as to whether to take action.
Again, if you have any questions
about whether something you intend to do on a paper or exam is acceptable,
please speak to your instructor before the assignment is due. I will be
glad to help you -- really.
1. Hint: Paper
topics and exam questions will be such that you cannot answer correctly
or sufficiently simply by copying sentences from the class texts or other
sources. You will need to be able to show that you have understood what
you have read. (In general, I ask that quotations make up no more than
20% of your answer to each numbered exam question and no more than 20%
of the total length of your term paper; this gives you space to answer
the questions adequately and to discuss your quotations.)