Normative Ethics - PL641

Location Term Level Credits (ECTS) Current Convenor 2018-19 2019-20
Canterbury Autumn
View Timetable
6 30 (15) DR TS Mei







This course is designed to introduce students to a number of approaches in what is often referred to as “normative ethics”. We face and hear about moral problems every day. These problems range from life and death matters concerning abortion, euthanasia and the like to other types of case such as whether to tell a lie to prevent hurting someone’s feelings. At some point we might wonder whether there is a set of rules or principles (such as ‘Do not lie’) which will help us through these tricky problems; we might wonder whether there is something more simple underlying all of this ‘ethical mess’ that we can discern. Normative ethics contains a number of theories that attempt to give us such principles and to sort out the mess. In particular, different normative ethical theories are attempts to articulate reasons why a certain course of action is ethically best; they are attempts to say what types of feature we should concentrate on when thinking about ethical problems and why it is that such features are features which have ‘intrinsic moral significance’. Of course, ethical theories do not exist in a vacuum. As we shall see, our everyday intuitions about what is morally best are both the origin of normative ethical theories and the origin of thoughts raised against them. In all of this, the course will be examining these theories by starting with their historical roots, particularly focussing on the work of J. S. Mill, Immanuel Kant and Aristotle.


This module appears in:

Contact hours

1 x 2 hour lecture, 1 x 1hr seminar weekly for 10 teaching weeks


Also available at Level 5 under code PL640

Method of assessment

100% Coursework

Preliminary reading

Indicative reading:

Three Methods of Ethics by Baron, Pettit and Slote
Normative Ethics by Shelly Kagan
Ethical Theory II (ed.) James Rachels

Utilitarianism and Consequentialism
Utilitarianism by J. S. Mill
Utilitarianism by Geoffrey Scarre
Consequentialism and its Critics (ed.) Samuel Scheffler

Kant and Deontology
The Groundwork of the Metaphysics of Morals by Immanuel Kant
An Introduction to Kant’s Ethics by Roger Sullivan
Deontology (ed.) Stephen Darwall

Virtue Ethics
Nicomachean Ethics by Aristotle
On Virtue Ethics by Rosalind Hursthouse
Virtue Ethics by Christine Swanton

See the library reading list for this module (Canterbury)

See the library reading list for this module (Medway)

Learning outcomes

By the end of this module Level 6 students should be able to:

7. Show systematic understanding of key aspects of consequentialism and Mill's utilitarianism.
8. Outline and critically discuss a number of problems for consequentialism: e.g. deciding what should be maximized; supererogation; integrity.
9. Show systematic understanding of key aspects of deontology and Kant's moral philosophy.
10. Outline and critically discuss a number of problems for deontologists: e.g. what principles?; integrity.
11. Show systematic understanding of key aspects of virtue theory and Aristotle's ethics.
12. Outline and critically discuss a number of problems for virtue theorists: e.g. which virtues?; what's so wrong with principles?

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