Study Abroad and Exchanges



PHI2003 : Ethics and the Modern World

Semester 1 Credit Value: 10
Semester 2 Credit Value: 10
ECTS Credits: 10.0


To introduce students to the foundations, fundamental themes and development of modern ethical thinking from the Enlightenment to the present day and to demonstrate the relevance of ethical theory to contemporary moral debates.

This module offers an accessible introduction to the most important sources, ideas and problems in modern ethical theory with particular attention to egoism, utilitarianism and Continental ethical theory. Seminar time will also be devoted to applying many of the theories to contemporary social problems chosen from topics such as war, famine, animal rights, the environment and genetics.

Outline Of Syllabus

In the first semester, we shall supply the theoretical groundwork for looking at ethical issues by introducing and interrogating the three main, modern ethical positions:

1.       Ethical egoism and contractarianism as an attempt to offer a scientific and naturalistic ethics consistent with empiricism and subjectivism;

2.       Utilitarianism as a development of empiricism, Mill’s defence of high culture and value and his attempt to respond to problems inherent in consequentialism;

3.       Deontological positions (such as Kant) that prioritize the rightness of actions as opposed to the good they bring about.

In semester 2, we shall consider global problems with the approaches of semester 1 and consider some alternatives:

1.       The problems of moral luck, determinism and moral scepticism are considered as a real challenge to simple act-based theories of ethics,

2.       Alternative models of ethical thinking are proposed, such as virtue ethics and social ethics (e.g. Hegelianism).

Seminars are devoted, first, to the clarification of these theories through discussion and, second, to the application of these theories to various contemporary social debates.

Teaching Methods

Teaching Activities
Category Activity Number Length Student Hours Comment
Guided Independent StudyAssessment preparation and completion401:0040:00Preparation and completion of assessment
Scheduled Learning And Teaching ActivitiesLecture201:0020:00N/A
Scheduled Learning And Teaching ActivitiesSmall group teaching201:0020:00Seminars
Guided Independent StudyIndependent study1120:00120:00Review lecture material and prepare for small group teaching
Teaching Rationale And Relationship

Lectures will introduce students to the leading ethical theories of modernity. Students will also be taught how such theories can illuminate current ethical debates and discussion time will be inserted so students can develop the skill of applying these theories in order to enlighten current debates.

Assessment Methods

The format of resits will be determined by the Board of Examiners

Other Assessment
Description Semester When Set Percentage Comment
Essay1A502000 words
Essay2A502000 words
Assessment Rationale And Relationship

The first essay is one out of six standard topics whereas the second can be designed by the student with the tutor’s help and approval. This makes it possible to assess knowledge acquisition, interpretative skill and theoretical understanding as well as the analytic and critical abilities of the student. The essays test the ability to think creatively, self-critically and independently as well as managing one’s own work to set time limits. This assessment method also gauges the students’ ability to move between generalisation and appropriately detailed discussion, and to cite relevant texts and interpret them adequately.

Reading Lists