The University of Southampton

UOSM2009 Ethics in a Complex World

Module Overview

Have you ever had to make a life or death decision? How do you think difficult moral problems in health care should be decided? This module will help you to grapple with such questions, as well as to explore complex ethical concepts. Using group discussion supported by a variety of collaborative technology and social media, you will investigate a contemporary subject in real depth, and gain an insight into practical problem solving based on theoretical perspectives.

Aims and Objectives

Module Aims

As part of Southampton’s Curriculum Innovation initiative, this optional, interdisciplinary module is available to all students of participating programmes. Its overarching aim is to enable you to become confident in developing your ideas and applying new concepts, both in relation to and outside the confines of your own discipline. Specifically, it is designed to enable you to begin to develop literacy in applying ethical concepts to pressing contemporary concerns. This is achieved through such means as identifying ethical issues, trying out alternative forms of analysis, sharing ideas and taking up new or alternative perspectives. Ethics is an intellectually rigorous subject so the scope of the module is intentionally broad and it is pitched at an introductory level. Supportive group-work activities and online resources will help you to think and reflect critically, and to develop further your confidence and self-awareness as a learner. Vitality and interactivity characterise our approach to learning. Student-generated topics and student-led sessions influence the direction and culture of learning. The ‘independent inquiry’ form of summative assessment provides a balance and allows you to pursue a topic of your choice independently and in greater depth.

Learning Outcomes

Knowledge and Understanding

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

  • Outline a contemporary issue, highlighting key features, and identify its underlying ethical or moral components
Subject Specific Intellectual and Research Skills

Having successfully completed this module you will be able to:

  • Describe how contrasting perspectives can deepen and enrich your understanding of complex ethical issues
  • Critically appraise one or more ethical approaches in relation to your chosen topic
  • Discuss others’ work, beliefs and values, engaging critically with research evidence, established theory and new ideas
  • Discuss others’ work, beliefs and values, engaging critically with research evidence, established theory and new ideas
Transferable and Generic Skills

Having successfully completed this module you will be able to:

  • Communicate your ideas persuasively, attributing sources and justifying assertions made


Introduction to module: sharing expectations, module demands and support mechanisms, working in groups, debating, introductory question / debate, identification of underpinning values / moral stances informing different perspectives. Introduction to the ethics of identity and information: discussion of digital identity, ethics of using social media, role in social movements / activism, Freedom of Information, creating ground-rules for group work, confidentiality / sharing of own / others’ information, bodily integrity and ownership. Link to resources on deontological and principle-based moral frameworks. Introduction to population challenges: ethics, politics and policy: Question / discussion may include: population growth, resource allocation, family planning, public / private domains. Link to resources on consequentialist and utilitarian moral frameworks. Introduction to charity: Question / discussion, may include: the role / limitations of charitable giving, relationship with Government, role of community. Links to resources on social justice, communitarian ethics, distributive justice, normative ethics. Introduction to ownership: Question / discussion, may include lifesaving treatments, law on intervention and assault, human rights, legal / moral interface, common ownership, diversity, role of faith/s life and death, assisted dying, euthanasia, living wills. Link to resources on legal frameworks, translation through guidance and recommendations, expert bodies and lobby groups, virtue ethics and ethics of care. Introduction to the ethics of research: question / discussion, may include historical and legal perspectives, research on vulnerable people, hard to reach groups, those unable to give consent, animals, including links to national, international, institutional guidance and frameworks, rights / principles versus utilitarianism, high profile challenges to confidentiality. Introduction to business ethics: (*still to be discussed*)

Learning and Teaching

Teaching and learning methods

Ten whole group facilitated seminars will take place every week using team teaching and externals (in person, at a distance or using podcasts). Learning groups (up to eight students) will have meet four times communicate using virtual and social means throughout the module. Facilitated seminars will enable the exploration of topics in a group, introducing ways of thinking about contemporary issues and challenges, shaped and mediated by students. More general and abstract ideas will be drawn from discussions. Opportunities to explore topics individually and in small learning groups will be supported by suggested reading, both academic and literary, by films and documentaries, by researching, playing games, participating in exercises and discussions. Scope for deeper investigation is through the development of a proposal for an in-depth study, which is formatively assessed by small learning groups.

Guided independent study125
Total study time150

Resources & Reading list

K Hutchings (2010). Global Ethics: An Introduction. 

J Harris (2007). Enhancing Evolution. 

R G Frey & C H Wellman (2005). A Companion to Applied Ethics. 

A Fenwick (2010). Are guidelines for genetic testing of children necessary?. Familial Cancer. ,0 , pp. 23-25.

H Biggs (2009). Healthcare Research Ethics and Law: Regulation, Review and Responsibility.

H. Biggs (2010). Reproductive Autonomy and Regulation: Challenges to Feminism. Fem Leg Stud. ,18 , pp. 299-308.

H. Biggs & K. Horsey (2006). Human Fertilisation and Embryology: Reproducing Regulation. 





MethodPercentage contribution
Journal Article  (2750 words) 100%
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