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Unit information: Themes in Ethics in 2022/23

Please note: It is possible that the information shown for future academic years may change due to developments in the relevant academic field. Optional unit availability varies depending on both staffing, student choice and timetabling constraints.

Unit name Themes in Ethics
Unit code PHILM0032
Credit points 20
Level of study M/7
Teaching block(s) Teaching Block 2 (weeks 13 - 24)
Unit director Dr. Sticker
Open unit status Not open
Units you must take before you take this one (pre-requisite units)


Units you must take alongside this one (co-requisite units)


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School/department Department of Philosophy
Faculty Faculty of Arts

Unit Information

Philosophical ethics explores fundamental questions about how we ought to live. Can morality require extreme sacrifices, and if so under what conditions? How do we explain the special value of going above and beyond what is morally required? What is so important about autonomy, i.e. being in charge of our own decisions and lives? Should we always act such that the principle of our action could become a law in the 'kingdom of ends'? Is the good will uniquely valuable? How can we cultivate practical wisdom? What does it mean to be virtuous?

In this unit we will make an in depth study of one or more central themes in philosophical ethics, at an advanced level. The particular themes focused on may vary from year to year, but in each case will raise issues of enduring and general philosophical interest and importance. The positions and arguments advanced by particular philosophers in developing the theme(s) will be considered and assessed. Examples of possible themes that might be studied: moral demandingness and supererogation, the question which (if any) ethical theory is the most promising, the nature and stringency of duties of aid, fundamental and applied issues for Kantian ethics, fundamental and applied issues for virtue ethics.

The unit therefore aims to:

  • Give students a grounding in key debates in philosophical ethics
  • Give students an awareness of the contemporary debates and recent developments in the field.
  • Introduce students to sources, methods and concepts that underpin philosophical enquires in ethics
  • Prepare students to undertake independent advanced-level research in the field.

Your learning on this unit

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

1. Outline key positions and explain their philosophical importance.

2. Critically evaluate debates in the primary and secondary literature.

3. Construct persuasive philosophical arguments appropriate to level M.

4. Demonstrate advanced philosophical skills (e.g. clear and concise presentation of ideas, constructing and evaluating arguments, carrying out independent research).

How you will learn

Teaching will be delivered through a combination of lectures, seminar-style discussion and self-directed exercises.

Formative tasks students are expected complete include:

Essay plan, 500 words.

How you will be assessed

Summative assessment:

1 x 6000 word essay designed to test ILOs 1-4.


If this unit has a Resource List, you will normally find a link to it in the Blackboard area for the unit. Sometimes there will be a separate link for each weekly topic.

If you are unable to access a list through Blackboard, you can also find it via the Resource Lists homepage. Search for the list by the unit name or code (e.g. PHILM0032).

How much time the unit requires
Each credit equates to 10 hours of total student input. For example a 20 credit unit will take you 200 hours of study to complete. Your total learning time is made up of contact time, directed learning tasks, independent learning and assessment activity.

See the Faculty workload statement relating to this unit for more information.

The Board of Examiners will consider all cases where students have failed or not completed the assessments required for credit. The Board considers each student's outcomes across all the units which contribute to each year's programme of study. If you have self-certificated your absence from an assessment, you will normally be required to complete it the next time it runs (this is usually in the next assessment period).
The Board of Examiners will take into account any extenuating circumstances and operates within the Regulations and Code of Practice for Taught Programmes.