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The University of Southampton

PHIL1023 Ethics

Module Overview

We all make moral judgements every day. You might decide not to push into a queue because it would be unfair. You might think that international companies should not use loopholes to avoid paying taxes. You might believe that murder is wrong but that it is not permissible for the state to take a murderer’s life in retribution. But how are we to decide what is right and wrong? Is the right thing to do whatever will bring about the greatest happiness for everyone concerned? Is it wrong to lie even when doing so won’t have any bad consequences? And what am I doing when I say, for example, that something is wrong? Am I merely expressing my own preferences or am I trying to state some objective fact? This module aims to introduce you to some central topics in philosophical reflection on ethics. It will investigate theories which philosophers have advanced about how we should act and about the nature of moral judgement.

Aims and Objectives

Module Aims

To explore and critically discuss some central topics in philosophical ethics.

Learning Outcomes

Learning Outcomes

Having successfully completed this module you will be able to:

  • identify some of the key features which distinguish moral judgements from other kinds of judgement
  • explain and assess influential philosophical accounts of the nature of moral judgement and of their subject-matter.
  • outline and evaluate some prominent moral theories which seek to answer the question, ‘How should I act?'
  • interpret key historical and contemporary texts in ethics.
  • present and debate ideas, both orally and writing, in an open-minded and rigorous fashion.
  • develop and support your own views on the issues the module concerns.


In this module you can expect to explore topics such as: Metaethics Metaethics explores the nature of moral judgements. Are moral judgements simply expressions of our personal preferences or beliefs about something external? You may consider core metaethical theories including subjectivism, cultural relativism, emotivism, and intuitionism. Normative Ethics Normative ethics focuses on how we should act. Can we find a general principle that tells us how to behave? Theories to be studies may include Consequentialism, Rossian Deontology, Kantian Ethics and Virtue Ethics.

Learning and Teaching

Teaching and learning methods

Teaching methods include - Weekly lectures - Small group seminars Learning activities include - Attending lectures - Contributing to discussion in lectures and seminars - Reading primary and secondary texts. - Doing research for and writing assessed essays

Completion of assessment task30
Wider reading or practice30
Preparation for scheduled sessions50
Total study time150

Resources & Reading list

H J Gensler (1998). Ethics: a Contemporary Introduction. 

P Singer (1991). A Companion to Ethics. 

S Blackburn (2001). Being Good: A Short Introduction to Ethics. 



MethodPercentage contribution
Essay  (1500 words) 67%
Exercise  (250 words) 33%


MethodPercentage contribution
Examination  (3 hours) 100%

Repeat Information

Repeat type: Internal & External

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