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Unit information: Ethics and Literature in 2017/18

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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

At the end of the unit, students will be able to:

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

2. understand competing approaches to thinking about happiness and its relationship to the good life

3. think critically about some of the ways that social circumstances either promote or discourage human flourishing.

Students will have:

4. engaged thoughtfully with several classic works of literature and philosophy, and will be able to:

5. articulate their central themes.

Finally, they will be able to:

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

Teaching details

11 one-hour lectures and 11 one-hour seminars

Assessment Details

Summative assessment in three forms:

  • Essay (2,000 words) 40%.
  • Exam (2 questions in 2 hours) 50%.
  • 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. The student should use the journal entries to give a brief summary of one of the week’s readings, and then to reflect freely on the reading. For instance, in what ways is the author’s argument persuasive, and in what ways is it unpersuasive? What further questions does it raise, and how does it fit in with other material from the course?

No formative essays – instead, the instructor will use the weekly journal as a chance to give feedback on progress.

The journal, essay and exam will assess ILOs 1-4: (1) knowledge of the philosophical literature; (2) critical understanding of central concepts and approaches; (3) ability to philosophically analyse the main arguments in the literature; (4) skills in philosophical writing and argumentation.

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.