Skip to main content

Unit information: Contemporary Ethics in 2014/15

Please note: you are viewing unit and programme information for a past academic year. Please see the current academic year for up to date information.

Unit name Contemporary Ethics
Unit code THRS20194
Credit points 20
Level of study I/5
Teaching block(s) Teaching Block 1 (weeks 1 - 12)
Unit director Dr. David Leech
Open unit status Open




School/department Department of Religion and Theology
Faculty Faculty of Arts


In this unit students are introduced to the major contemporary rival ethical theories – religious and secular - and the large-scale systems of thought and practice out of which they emerged. The unit will focus on the historical development of the major ethical traditions on the one hand, including in some cases their historical uncoupling from a religious context, and on the other, their differing treatments of ethical issues which are the subject of ongoing moral discussion. Through these students will develop an appreciation of the tradition-based and contended nature of contemporary ethical reflection and practice, and their embeddedness within more general narratives.


To introduce students to a number of key issues in contemporary ethical thinking.

To provide a sense of the tradition-based nature of contemporary ethical conceptions and their links to broader metaphysical assumptions about the nature of reality.

To provide an overview of the major contemporary ethical traditions.

To develop critical interaction with primary and secondary materials.

To develop written presentation skills through the course assessment.

Intended learning outcomes

By the end of the unit students will be expected to have:

(1)Acquired a knowledge of ethical traditions in their historical contexts.

(2)Acquired the skill to engage critically with the basic claims of these ethical traditions, including the skill to reflect on ethical decision-making.

(3)Acquired a critical awareness of the relationship, or lack of it, between ethical and religious claims.

(4)Acquired knowledge and skill to articulate arguments regarding the above in a well-structured and clear manner.

In addition 2nd year students will have

(5)developed analytical skills suitable for level I as demonstrated in their formal assessments.

Teaching details

1 lecture + 1 seminar per week

Assessment Details

One summative coursework essay of 2500 words (50%) and one unseen examination of two hours comprising 2 questions out of 6 (50%). Both elements will assess ILOs (1) (2) (3). The coursework essay in particular will offer students the opportunity to demonstrate ILOs (4) and (5).

Reading and References

MacIntyre, Alasdair. A short history of ethics : a history of moral philosophy from the Homeric age to the twentieth century. London : Routledge, 2002.

Nietzsche, Friedrich. On the genealogy of morality: a polemic; translated, with notes, by Maudemarie Clark and Alan J. Swensen; introduction by Maudemarie Clark. Indianapolis, Ind.: Hackett Publishing, 1998.

The Cambridge companion to Christian ethics /edited by Robin Gill. Cambridge : Cambridge University Press, 2001.

MacIntyre, Alasdair: After virtue :a study in moral theory. 3rd ed. Notre Dame, Ind.: University of Notre Dame Press, 2007.

Singer, Peter, Practical ethics. 3rd ed. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2011.

Taylor, Charles, Sources of the self: the making of the modern identity. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1989.