Skip to main content

Unit information: Ethics and Literature in 2018/19

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 Ethics and Literature
Unit code PHIL30094
Credit points 20
Level of study H/6
Teaching block(s) Teaching Block 2 (weeks 13 - 24)
Unit director Dr. Everett
Open unit status Not open




School/department Department of Philosophy
Faculty Faculty of Arts


This unit brings together philosophy and literature to explore some of the things that matter most for how well human lives go. This year will we will explore key concepts, texts and thinkers from the canon of black philosophical thought and literature. We give particular attention to the intersection between philosophy and the arts, exploring links between black social and political thought, and black expressive cultures and aesthetics. We will draw on a variety of sources, including academic philosophy, philosophical essays, music, arts, and literature. Black philosophical thought is diverse, but has been unified in the emancipatory aim of seeking to communicate freedom within the constraints of a racist society (Lewis Gordon), and to transform the symbolic, epistemological and material dimensions of racial injustice (Paul Taylor). Issues to be covered include the work of W E.B. Du Bois, the concept of race, the phenomenon of racialization and its connections with Empire, Black Feminist thought, Intersectionality, and the political potential of popular culture.

Intended learning outcomes

On successful completion of this unit students will be able to:

1. articulate, compare and critique alternative theoretical accounts of moral responsibility, retribution, and forgiveness

2. articulate competing approaches to thinking about happiness and its relationship to the good life, as proposed in several classic works of literature and philosophy

3. present critical discussion of some of the ways that social circumstances either promote or discourage human flourishing;

4. analyse both literary and philosophical pieces through close attention to text, compositional structure and rhetoric.

Teaching details

11 2-hour lectures and 11 1-hour seminars

Assessment Details

  • Essay (2,000 words) 40%. (ILOs 1-4)
  • Exam (2 questions in 2 hours) 50%. (ILOs 1-4)
  • Weekly journal 10%. Students will be asked to submit 10 entries in total over the course of the term, generally on a weekly basis prior to seminars. Entries should be 300-500 words. (ILOs 1-4)

Reading and References

  • W. E. B. Du Bois. The Souls of Black Folk. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2008
  • Patricia Hill Collins. Black Feminist Thought. New York: Routledge, 2000
  • Tommie Shelby. We who are dark. Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 2005.