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The University of Southampton

PHIL2040 Metaethics

Module Overview

We all make moral judgments and think about moral questions. For instance, you might think that torture is typically wrong but wonder whether it may sometimes be right. Whereas normative ethics tries to answer these questions, metaethics is concerned with the status of moral questions, and the nature of moral judgments. What sort of thing are we asking when we ask whether torture is ever right? Is this the kind of question that has a right or wrong answer? If so, how might we discover the right answer? Does the right answer depend on who is asking the question? And if there is a right answer, why should we care about it? This module will address questions of this sort by examining a range of metaethical theories about the nature of morality and moral judgment.

Aims and Objectives

Learning Outcomes

Knowledge and Understanding

Having successfully completed this module, you will be able to demonstrate knowledge and understanding of:

  • influential theories in metaethics.
  • the arguments for and against theories in metaethics.
Transferable and Generic Skills

Having successfully completed this module you will be able to:

  • Undertake independent work, including identifying and using appropriate resources
  • Work effectively to deadlines.
  • Take notes from talks and written materials.
  • Contribute to discussion in a critical but dispassionate way.
  • Express views clearly and concisely.
Cognitive Skills

Having successfully completed this module you will be able to:

  • Interpret, synthesise and criticise complex texts and positions
  • Present ideas in writing, clearly and carefully
  • Debate and criticise ideas and arguments in an even-handed fashion.
  • Articulate and defend your own views regarding the issues the module concerns


The syllabus may vary from year to year. Topics might include: - Moral realism and anti-realism: are there facts about right and wrong? If so, do these facts depend on us? - The nature of moral judgment: are moral judgments beliefs? Might they instead be emotions or preferences? - Moral epistemology: if there are moral facts, how can we know about them? - The significance of morality: why should we care about right and wrong?

Learning and Teaching

Teaching and learning methods

Teaching methods include: - Lectures - In-class discussion - One-on-one consultation with module co-ordinator Learning activities include: - Attending classes - Contribution to class discussion - Doing independent research for and writing assessed work

Preparation for scheduled sessions24
Wider reading or practice24
Completion of assessment task22
Follow-up work24
Total study time150

Resources & Reading list

A full reading list will be made available once the module is underway.. 

Simon Kirchin (2012). Metaethics. 

Andrew Fisher (2011). Metaethics. 



Draft essay


MethodPercentage contribution
Essay  (1250 words) 45%
Essay  (1250 words) 45%
Reading task 10%

Repeat Information

Repeat type: Internal & External

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