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Academic Year: Fall 2015

Term: Fall

Day/Evening: D

Instructor: Prof. Mark Johnstone


Office: University Hall 307

Phone: 905-525-9140 x 23461

Office Hours: Wednesdays 9:00 – 10:00 am and 1:00 – 2:00 pm, or by appointment

Course Objectives:

Course Description

This course is a detailed study of Plato’s greatest work of philosophy, the Republic. An enormously rich, multi-faceted and complex work, the Republic touches on most of the key themes of Plato’s philosophy, spanning topics in ethics, political philosophy, psychology, aesthetics, epistemology (the theory of knowledge) and metaphysics (the theory of the fundamental structure of reality). We will read the entire work, with the primary aim of understanding and critically evaluating Plato’s philosophical views.



The class will meet three times a week: on Mondays, Tuesday and Thursdays. On Mondays and Tuesdays I will focus on introducing new material (although I hope there will be ample opportunity for questions and discussion). The meetings on Thursdays will be more loosely structured, and will be driven by student questions and comments on the readings. Required readings will be moderate in length, averaging around 25 pages per week in total. However, some of the material will be challenging and will require re-reading. Assessment will be based primarily on two essays and a final examination.


By the end of this course, you should be familiar with one of the most brilliant and influential works in the history of philosophy, and with the main philosophical ideas it contains. In addition, you should have developed your ability to:

  • Read and understand difficult and challenging texts
  • Critically assess the strengths and weaknesses of arguments
  • Appreciate unfamiliar ideas and points of view
  • Develop and defend your own positions and ideas
  • Express yourself clearly in discussion
  • Write clearly, concisely and effectively in support of your claims

Textbooks, Materials & Fees:

Required Text

There is just one required text, which will be available from the campus store. Please purchase this edition (it is a reliable translation, and is very reasonably priced):

  • Plato: Republic. Translated by G.M.A. Grube (revised by C.D.C. Reeve). Hackett, 1992.

A selection of supplementary readings will be made available through the course website.

Course Website

I will be using the course website on Avenue to Learn ( to post regular updates and information about the course, copies of material distributed in class (including slides), supplementary readings, additional resources, and information and advice about assessment (including essay questions). I encourage you to check in regularly.

Method of Assessment:


  1. Essays (30% and 40% - the better grade will count for 40%)

You will be asked to write two essays for this course. Each essay should be no more than six (6) pages in length (12 point font, double-spaced, regular margins – page limit does not include bibliography). The purpose of the essays is to provide you with an opportunity to engage with the material covered in class in depth and to formulate and express your own thoughts about it, while developing your skills in critical thinking and writing. Whichever essay receives the higher mark will count for 40% of your final grade; the other essay will count for 30%. Further information about the essays and my expectations for them will be provided in class and on the course website.

  • Essay One is due at 11:59pm on Saturday, October 17
  • Essay Two is due at 11:59pm on Saturday, November 21
  1. Final Exam (30%)

The final examination for this course will be two hours in length. It will consist of a combination of short answer questions and a single essay. The short answer questions will cover material spanning the whole semester, while the essay will focus on material covered in the final weeks of class. I will circulate further information about the exam, together with a selection of questions and topics that may appear on it, well in advance of its date.

Attendance and Participation (up to +2%)

Although there is no dedicated attendance and participation grade for this course, and no penalty for failing to attend, those who do attend class regularly and participate in discussion will be rewarded at the end of the semester with a small bonus (up to a maximum of +2%), which will be added to their final grade.


Instructions for Submitting Essays

  • All essays should be submitted electronically, using the “Dropbox” tool on Avenue. Essays should be written in 12-point font, be double-spaced, and have regular sized (i.e. 1 inch) margins. Please number all pages (this makes commenting easier). Please submit in only one of two standard file formats: MS Word or pdf.
  • Work submitted on Avenue can be checked automatically by to reveal plagiarism. If this occurs, the essay will then be added to the Turnitin database. If you do not wish to have your work added to the Turnitin database, please send it to me as an e-mail attachment instead. No penalty will be assigned if you submit your work this way. To see the university’s policy, click here.


Policies on Late Work, Extensions and Accommodations

  • Late essays will be penalized at the rate of 4% for the first day or part day late, then an additional 2% per day or part day after that (this includes weekend days), up to a maximum penalty of 10% for essays up to one week late. Thus:

Up to 24 hours late:                                      -4%

Between 24 and 48 hours late                                   -6%

Between 48 and 72 hours late                                   -8%

Between 72 hours and one week late:           -10%

Essays more than one week late will not normally be accepted at all (i.e. they will receive a grade of zero), except by special permission from me.

  • I understand that students are sometimes unable to complete a piece of assessment on time (or at all) for legitimate medical or personal/compassionate reasons. If you find yourself in such a situation, please contact me (by email) as soon as possible to let me know. Once I have been made aware of the situation, I can grant an extension or take other steps to ensure that you are not unduly penalized for the late or missed work. Supporting medical documentation, if required, should be provided to your home faculty or program office, not to me (the office in question will contact me in due course, to let me know this documentation has been received).
  • All requests for extensions should be directed to me by email (so there is a written record) prior to the due date of the essay in question.
    • Note that since both essays for this course are worth more than 25% of your final grade, I will not be accepting the McMaster Student Absence Form (MSAF) for them. If you do suffer a minor illness and need a short extension (up to three days), simply contact me to explain the situation and request one. In this course, I will be generous with short extensions (say, 2-3 days). However, if you need longer than three days, I may require documentation (see above).
  • Students registered with SAS should see me as soon as possible after the start of the semester. I would like to know who you are and if there is any special assistance you require, while you will need to provide me with a copy of your accommodations letter.

Please Note the Following Policies and Statements:

Academic Dishonesty

You are expected to exhibit honesty and use ethical behaviour in all aspects of the learning process. Academic credentials you earn are rooted in principles of honesty and academic integrity.

Academic dishonesty is to knowingly act or fail to act in a way that results or could result in unearned academic credit or advantage. This behaviour can result in serious consequences, e.g. the grade of zero on an assignment, loss of credit with a notation on the transcript (notation reads: "Grade of F assigned for academic dishonesty"), and/or suspension or expulsion from the university.

It is your responsibility to understand what constitutes academic dishonesty. For information on the various types of academic dishonesty please refer to the Academic Integrity Policy, located at

The following illustrates only three forms of academic dishonesty:

  1. Plagiarism, e.g. the submission of work that is not one’s own or for which other credit has been obtained.
  2. Improper collaboration in group work.
  3. Copying or using unauthorized aids in tests and examinations.

Email correspondence policy

It is the policy of the Faculty of Humanities that all email communication sent from students to instructors (including TAs), and from students to staff, must originate from each student’s own McMaster University email account. This policy protects confidentiality and confirms the identity of the student.  Instructors will delete emails that do not originate from a McMaster email account.

Modification of course outlines

The University reserves the right to change dates and/or deadlines etc. for any or all courses in the case of an emergency situation or labour disruption or civil unrest/disobedience, etc. If a modification becomes necessary, reasonable notice and communication with the students will be given with an explanation and the opportunity to comment on changes. Any significant changes should be made in consultation with the Department Chair.

McMaster Student Absence Form (MSAF)

In the event of an absence for medical or other reasons, students should review and follow the Academic Regulation in the Undergraduate Calendar Requests for Relief for Missed Academic Term Work. Please note these regulations have changed beginning Fall 2015. You can find information at If you have any questions about the MSAF, please contact your Associate Dean's office.

Academic Accommodation of Students with Disabilities

Students who require academic accommodation must contact Student Accessibility Services (SAS) to make arrangements with a Program Coordinator. Academic accommodations must be arranged for each term of study. Student Accessibility Services can be contacted by phone 905-525-9140 ext. 28652 or e-mail For further information, consult McMaster University's Policy for Academic Accommodation of Students with Disabilities.

Academic Accommodation for Religious, Indigenous and Spiritual Observances

Students requiring academic accommodation based on religion and spiritual observances should follow the procedures set out in the Course Calendar or by their respective Faculty. In most cases, the student should contact his or her professor or academic advisor as soon as possible to arrange accommodations for classes, assignments, tests and examinations that might be affected by a religious holiday or spiritual observance.

Topics and Readings:


Schedule of Readings and Topics


Class dates

Topic and Required[1] Reading


Week 1

Sep 8, 10

Introduction and overview

Setting the scene

Book I (to 336a)


Week 2

Sep 14, 15, 17

Refuting Thrasymachus; Glaucon’s challenge

Book I (336b-end) and Book II (to 362c)


Week 3

Sep 21, 22, 24

The city-soul analogy; education and censorship

Book II (362d to end)


Week 4

Sep 28, 29, Oct 1

Justice in the city

Book III (all) and Book IV (to 434d)


Week 5

Oct 5, 6, 8

Justice in the soul

Book IV (434d to end)




**Mid-Term Recess**

Essay 1 due

(Sat Oct 17)

Week 6

Oct 19, 20, 22

Plato’s ideal city-state

Book V (to 473c)


Week 7

Oct 26, 27, 29

Knowledge and philosopher-kings

Book V (473c) to Book VI (504d)


Week 8

Nov 2, 3, 5

Sun, line and cave; the return to the cave

Book VI (504e) to Book VII (521b)


Week 9

Nov 9, 10, 12

Philosophy, education and mathematics

Book VII (521b to end)


Week 10

Nov 16, 17, 19

Corruption in city and soul

Book VIII to Book IX (580a)

Essay 2 due

(Sat Nov 21)

Week 11

Nov 23, 24, 26

Justice, pleasure and happiness

Book IX (580a to end)


Week 12

Nov 30, Dec 1, 3

Poetry and the soul

Book X (all)


Week 13

Dec 7, 8

Conclusion and review





Exam: date TBA



[1] I will be placing various supplementary readings and resources on the course website, organized by week and topic. Although not strictly required, you may find some of these readings helpful for understanding the primary text and for writing the essays.

Other Course Information:

Additional Notes:

  1. Please retain a copy of all your graded papers.
  2. The scale used by the Registrar’s Office will be used to convert number grades to final letter grades. Here’s a link to the standard chart:
  3. You will have the opportunity to evaluate your instructors’ teaching and the course as a whole towards the end of the term.
  4. You may find the Student Success Centre of assistance in developing your writing and study skills:
  5. E-mail policy: In accordance with university policy, you should use your own McMaster e-mail account for all e-mail correspondence with me. This policy protects confidentiality and confirms the identity of the student.
  6. Academic integrity policy: You are expected to exhibit honesty and to behave ethically in all aspects of the learning process. Academic dishonesty consists of misrepresentation by deception or by other fraudulent means and can result in serious consequences, e.g. the grade of zero on an assignment, loss of credit with a notation on the transcript (notation reads: “Grade of F assigned for academic dishonesty”), and/or suspension or expulsion from the university. It is your responsibility to understand what constitutes academic dishonesty. The following list illustrates only three forms: plagiarism, e.g. the submission of work that is not one’s own or for which other credit has been obtained; improper collaboration in group work; copying or using unauthorized aids in tests and examinations. For complete information refer to the Academic Integrity Policy, available at

Final note:

The instructor and university reserve the right to modify elements of the course during the term. The university may change the dates and deadlines for any or all courses in extreme circumstances. If either type of modification becomes necessary, reasonable notice and communication with the students will be given with explanation and the opportunity to comment on changes. It is the responsibility of the student to check their McMaster email and course websites weekly during the term and to note any changes.