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Unit information: Ethics in 2019/20

Please note: Due to alternative arrangements for teaching and assessment in place from 18 March 2020 to mitigate against the restrictions in place due to COVID-19, information shown for 2019/20 may not always be accurate.

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
Unit code PHIL20011
Credit points 20
Level of study I/5
Teaching block(s) Teaching Block 2 (weeks 13 - 24)
Unit director Dr. Alan Wilson
Open unit status Not open




School/department Department of Philosophy
Faculty Faculty of Arts


Philosophical Ethics is generally divided into three parts as follows.

1. Metaethics. What is the nature of a moral judgment? Do moral judgements have truth-values, or are they something else (e.g. commands or expressions of emotion)?

2. Normative ethics. What makes a given action right and another wrong? What is the relation between the right and the good? Can we articulate a moral theory that is both clear and consistent in its own right, and captures most of our intuitive sense of what is right and wrong?

3. Applied ethics. Here we take the theories of normative ethics and apply them to real-life moral and political topics such as abortion, euthanasia, sexual conduct, free speech, censorship, the justification of punishment, and of course many others.

The balance of this unit will be about 80% normative ethics and 20% applied ethics. The focus will be on the three great theories of normative ethics that dominate the current debate, basing ethics on (a) consequences (eg utilitarians), (b) duty (Kant and his followers), and (c) virtue (Aristotelians). But it’s impossible to grasp the key differences between these three distinct approaches to ethical theory without at least sketching some of their practical implications, so parts of the unit will inevitably spill over from the normative theories to their implications for applied ethics. It surely matters to your views on, e.g., sexual morality or the role of consent in medicine if your basic principles are utilitarian, Kantian, or Aristotelian.

Intended learning outcomes

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

1. demonstrate detailed knowledge and in-depth understanding of the central issues, debates, and positions, in ethics,

2. demonstrate detailed knowledge and in-depth understanding of the central literature on these issues, debates, and positions,

3. demonstrate the ability to critically engage with, and philosophically analyse, these issues, debates, and positions, together with the central literature on them, to a standard appropriate for level I/5,

4. demonstrate skills in philosophical writing, of a standard appropriate to level I/5,

5. demonstrate independent research skills of a standard appropriate to level I/5.

Teaching details

22 x 1-hour lectures and 11 x 1-hour seminars

Assessment Details


1 x 2000 word essay (40%) [ILOs (1)-(5)]

1 x 2-hour unseen exam (60%) [ILOs (1)-(4)]

Reading and References

Baron , Pettit, and Slote, Three Methods of Ethics (Blackwell, Oxford, 1997)