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The University of Southampton
International Summer School

British Moral Philosophy

Clear thinking
Clear thinking

How ought we to live? What makes certain actions and practices morally wrong, morally permissible, or even morally required? How do we solve the moral dilemmas we face in life? These are the kind of questions that moral philosophers seek to answer.

In this topic, we will be looking at the work of some of the most influential British moral philosophers. Our main focus will be on the 19th Century thinker John Stuart Mill. Mill is known not just for his work in moral philosophy, but also for his efforts in promoting free speech, liberty, women’s rights, and other political and moral causes. We will look at Mill’s life and his main contribution to moral philosophy: his version of Utilitarianism. Utilitarianism is an ethical theory which, roughly stated, says that we ought to do what will produce the greatest amount of happiness for all affected beings.

Although utilitarian thinking has been very influential, it is also controversial. The theory has radical and uncomfortable implications regarding how we ought to live our lives, what we can eat, what we should spend our money on, what obligations we have to those living in poverty, what sexual acts are morally permissible, and many other practical issues. We will look at some of the main objections to Utilitarianism, and then examine how Mill and others have attempted to address them. Is Utilitarianism still a plausible theory or is it too problematic? Is Mill’s version of Utilitarianism an improvement on that of earlier thinkers, such as Jeremy Bentham? These are just some of the questions you will consider. We will also examine some alternative ethical theories offered by other British moral philosophers.

The academic organising this topic is Dr Brian McElwee, Lecturer in Philosophy.  Find out more about the PGR tutor, Nick Harding, on our Meet your PGR Tutor page.

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