Being and Not-Being in Greek Philosophy: from Parmenides to Aristotle (CLA3263)

StaffDr Gabriele Galluzzo - Convenor
Credit Value15
ECTS Value7.5
NQF Level
Pre-requisitesEither Greek or Roman Philosophy, or any Philosophy module
Duration of Module Term 2: 11 weeks;

Module aims

The aim of the module is to acquaint you with the early phases of the discipline that we nowadays call ‘metaphysics’ by illustrating the way in which Greek philosophers started to investigate into being and not-being. Through an analysis of a wide range of texts you will be in a position to critically evaluate philosophical argument and to place them in their appropriate historical and theoretical context. Furthermore, the module aims to enable you to understand the differences between the contemporary conception of being and not-being (which mainly focuses on the notion of existence) and the specifically Greek conception (which centres, by contrast, on a plurality of intuitions that are not simply confined to the notion of existence). Finally, the module will enable you to get acquainted with a variety of notions (existence and non-existence, predication, truth etc.) that can fruitfully be applied to different moments of human thought and even to contexts outside the philosophical arena.

ILO: Module-specific skills

  • 1. To demonstrate knowledge of a wide range of topics connected with the notions of being and not-being
  • 2. To demonstrate awareness of the specific way in which being and not-being were understood in the different phases of Classical Greek thought.

ILO: Discipline-specific skills

  • 3. To demonstrate appreciation of both the historical and the philosophical issues raised by ancient philosophical texts
  • 4. To develop critical skills that can be applied to the analysis of every texts on metaphysics

ILO: Personal and key skills

  • 5. Through the preparation for and the composition of essays, to demonstrate the ability to think critically and independently on a range of crucial issues and to construct an interesting and consistent argument
  • 6. Through the delivery of oral presentation to demonstrate the ability to speak clearly, engage in public debate and respond critically to observations and objections

Syllabus plan

  1. To be or not to be? Being and not-being in ancient and contemporary philosophy
  2. The  verb ‘to be’ in Greek language and philosophy
  3. Parmenides’ revolution: the birth of metaphysics
  4. Parmenides on being
  5. Parmenides on not-being
  6. A physical understanding of being and not-being: the Atomists
  7. Plato on being and becoming: the theory of Forms
  8. The notion of true being in Republic V-VII
  9. Beyond Parmenides: not-being as different in the Sophist
  10. Aristotle’s first reaction to Plato: the theory of the ten categories
  11. Aristotle on the multivocity of ‘being’: focal meaning in Metaphysics, IV 1-2
  12. Conclusion and revision: the Greeks on being and not-being

Learning activities and teaching methods (given in hours of study time)

Scheduled Learning and Teaching ActivitiesGuided independent studyPlacement / study abroad

Details of learning activities and teaching methods

CategoryHours of study timeDescription
Scheduled Learning & Teaching activity22Seminars (1 x 2 hours per week): 1 hour presentation by lecturer and 1 hour presentations by students
Guided independent study128Independent study

Formative assessment

Form of assessmentSize of the assessment (eg length / duration)ILOs assessedFeedback method
Oral discussion / debate1-6Oral feedback from lecturer

Summative assessment (% of credit)

CourseworkWritten examsPractical exams

Details of summative assessment

Form of assessment% of creditSize of the assessment (eg length / duration)ILOs assessedFeedback method
Research exercises (bibliography and plan)10No fixed length1-5Mark, written comments and individual feedback from lecturer
In-class presentation2020 minutes2-4, 6Mark, oral comments and feedback from lecturer and peers Written comments and individual feedback from lecturer
Essay704000 words1-5Mark, written comments Individual feedback from lecturer

Details of re-assessment (where required by referral or deferral)

Original form of assessmentForm of re-assessmentILOs re-assessedTimescale for re-assessment
EssayEssay1-5August ref/def period

Re-assessment notes

Re-assessment is not available for presentations.

Indicative learning resources - Basic reading

Primary sources

Parmenides, in R. Waterfield (ed.), The First Philosophers. The Presocratics and the Sophists, Oxford 2000

The Atomists, in R. Waterfield (ed.), The First Philosophers. The Presocratics and the Sophists, Oxford 2000

Plato, Republic V-VII

Plato, the Sophist

Aristotle, Categories, Chs. 1-5

Aristotle, Metaphysics, IV.1-3


Secondary sources

Brown, L., “The Verb ‘To Be’ in Greek Philosophy” in Everson, S.  (ed.), Language, Cambridge University Press, Cambridge 1994

Crivelly, P., Plato’s Account of Falsehood. A Study of the Sophist, Cambridge University Press, Cambirdge 2012

Ferejohn, M.T., “Aristotle on Focal Meaning and the Unity of Science.”, Phronesis 25 (1980), 117-128.

Kahn, Ch., Essays on Being, Oxford University Press, Oxford 2006

Kung, J., “Aristotle on ‘Being is Said in Many Ways’.” History of Philosophy Quarterly 3 (1986), 3-18.

Mann, W.-R., The Discovery of Things: Aristotle’s Categories and Their Context, Princeton University Press, Princeton 2000

Matthen, M., “Greek Ontology and the “Is” of Truth”, Phronesis 28 (1983), pp. 113-35.

Sedley, D., “Two Conceptions of Vacuum”, Phronesis 27 (1982), pp. 175-193.

Sedley, D., “Parmenides and Melissus”, in Long, A. (ed.), The Cambridge Companion to Early Greek Philosophy, pp. 113-133.

Warren, J., Presocratics, Acumen, Stocksfield 2007.

Waterfield, R., The First Philosophers. The Presocratics and the Sophists, Oxford University Press, Oxford 2000

White, N., Plato on Knowledge and Reality, Hackett, Indianapolis 1976

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Key words search

Being, Not-being, existence, predication, Parmenides, Plato, Aristotle