Introduction to Philosophy: Ethics - PL303

Location Term Level Credits (ECTS) Current Convenor 2017-18 2018-19
Canterbury Spring
View Timetable
4 15 (7.5) DR GA Forbes







Students studying on this module will be introduced to a number of big questions in ethics. The questions may include the following: What makes a life good? Is it happiness? Or is it something else? Another big question is: What makes actions right or wrong? Is it God demanding or forbidding them? Or are actions perhaps right to the extent that they serve to make lives better off, and wrong to the extent that they make lives worse off? Some philosophers have thought so. Others wonder: What if I steal money from someone so rich that my act in no way makes her life go any worse. Might it still be the case that I have acted wrongly—even if I haven't made anyone worse off? A third bit question is this: What's the status of morality? Is it, for example, the case that what’s right for me might be wrong for you? Does it make any sense at all to talk about moral claims being true or false, even relative to moral communities? Might moral judgements be nothing but expressions of sentiments? Throughout the course, students will be examining these and similar questions from the point of view of a variety of philosophers, including Plato, Aristotle, John Stuart Mill, Immanuel Kant, and David Hume.


This module appears in:

Contact hours

1 hour lecture and 1 hour seminar per week for 10 teaching weeks

Method of assessment

100% Coursework

Preliminary reading

The main course textbooks are: Russ Shafer-Landau, The Fundamentals of Ethics (2nd ed.), Oxford University Press, 2012, and Russ Shafer-Landau, The Ethical Life (2nd ed.), Oxford University Press, 2012.

See the library reading list for this module (Canterbury)

See the library reading list for this module (Medway)

Learning outcomes

The aims of this course are:

(1) to introduce students to some basic questions about the nature of moral philosophizing through an examination of a range of moral thinkers and schools;
(2) to enable students to understand the connections and differences between moral philosophy and other kinds of study, including moral anthropology;
(3) to develop students' ability to analyse and critically appraise logical arguments;
(4) to develop students’ ability to plan and write a philosophical essay and build it around a coherent argument.

Students who successfully complete the course should:

(5) acquire a basic knowledge of certain fundamental and enduring debates about the respective roles of reason and feeling (emotion) in moral argument and judgement;
(6) have a grasp of what it is for a moral theory to be objective or, alternatively, subjective, and the various senses that can be given to these terms;
(7) understand something of how empirical and historical accounts of moral cultures and practices bear upon issues of truth and falsity in ethics.

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