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The University of Southampton

PHIL6066 The Ethics of Belief

Module Overview

It is commonplace to hear people say such things as, ‘You shouldn’t believe that God exists—look at all the evil in the world’, or ‘You ought to believe that there is life on other planets—it’s entirely probable’, and the like. These judgements concerning what one ought (not) to believe seem to assume that there are norms governing belief, in something like the way that moral norms govern action. But what are these norms? What would account for them? How can belief be governed by such norms if, unlike action, it is not something we have control over? If belief is subject to such norms, what does this tell us about the nature of belief? The aim of this module is to explore such questions and to consider to what extent belief, like action, has an ethics.

Aims and Objectives

Learning Outcomes

Knowledge and Understanding

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

  • the central views concerning the ethics of belief
  • the problems facing those views and the arguments in support of them
Subject Specific Intellectual and Research Skills

Having successfully completed this module you will be able to:

  • articulate and defend your own answers to the above questions and to relate the issues they concern to issues in other areas of philosophy
Transferable and Generic Skills

Having successfully completed this module you will be able to:

  • identify and use appropriate source material.
  • present and debate ideas in an open-minded but rigorous way.
  • undertake, with appropriate supervision, independent work, including identifying and analysing problems, and working effectively to deadlines.
  • work with others and make a contribution to shared projects.


The syllabus may vary from year to year. Topics typically include: - Evidentialism – ought one to believe only what one’s evidence supports? - Norms of belief and the aim of belief – is belief governed by general norms? Does belief aim at truth? - Believing at will – can we decide what to believe? - Metaethics of belief – what is the nature of norms governing belief? - Epistemic injustice – is there a politics of belief as well as an ethics of belief? - Ideology – can ideological beliefs ever be justified?

Learning and Teaching

Teaching and learning methods

Teaching activities include: - Lectures - In-class discussion - One to one consultation with the module coordinator Learning activities include: - Attending classes - Participating in class discussion - Preparing for and completing assessment tasks

Follow-up work20
Wider reading or practice25
Completion of assessment task40
Preparation for scheduled sessions30
Total study time150

Resources & Reading list

A Chignell (2000). The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy. The Ethics of Belief. .

R Feldman (2000). Philosophy and Phenomenological Research. The Ethics of Belief. ,60 , pp. 667-695.

M. Lynch (2005).  True to Life: Why Truth Matters. 

M. Steup (2001).  Knowledge, Truth and Duty. 


Assessment Strategy

For MA students taking this module, expectations will be significantly higher than those for year 3 undergraduate students attending the same lectures, and the assessment criteria will accordingly by stricter. In particular students will be required to demonstrate extremely high levels of detailed and accurate exposition, critical engagement, organisation and presentation, with scholarship that draws on appropriate primary literature.


Business case or Essay plan


MethodPercentage contribution
Essay  (4000 words) 100%


MethodPercentage contribution
Resubmit assessments 100%

Repeat Information

Repeat type: Internal & External

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