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Ethics (PH211)

We evaluate each other’s actions constantly. You might think that your friend acted wrongly in breaking their promise; perhaps you argue and protest against a government welfare policy because it’s cruel; you reflect on what would be the best way to live your life. This sort of thinking is commonplace, but also puzzling. It’s not entirely clear what makes these moral claims true. Also, how do we find out which moral claims are true? When we observe someone tormenting a cat, say, we might all feel that something wrong is happening; but we don’t directly see the wrongness in the same way that we see the cat’s furriness.

In this module we use the tools of philosophy to shed light on these questions. We study different theories of what makes things right or wrong (normative ethics). We will then take a step back and think about more basic questions – is anything right or wrong anyway?; what does it mean to say that something ought to be done?; how do we tell which things are unfair? (metaethics).

We will look at these issues by studying what the most influential moral philosophers in history have had to say about these sorts of questions, but always with an eye to how they can help us resolve contemporary debates. Studying this module will provide you with knowledge and skills useful to the exploration of ethical and political questions in your further study.

Module Directors



This module will run in the Autumn Term and is worth 15 CATS.