Module Outline (updated 03.05.18)

(content potentially to change)

This is a module in ethical theory rather than practical ethics. That is, it takes up theoretical questions about the status and justification of morality rather than philosophical issues raised by practical moral problems.

In the module, we will explore some of the things that worry people about morality. These are matters that may be thought of as challenges to morality and that seem either to make morality impossible or to undermine our commitment to it. For instance, if morality is just a matter of what we happen to like or dislike, or it is only relative to the standards of one's culture, the idea that we can ask and give moral reasons appears to be undermined, or significantly limited. Analogously, the fact that moral discussions (unlike arguments about matters of fact) often end up in irresolvable disagreements seems to threaten the rationality of moral arguments. The role that matters of luck play in our moral evaluations seems to involve holding people responsible for things that are not really under their control, thus compromising the idea that we can really assess the moral value of their actions. In the first term, we will look at these and other challenges to morality, and we will also explore some of the metaethical questions that these challenges raise: can we say that our moral judgements are capable of being true or false? If they are, does their truth depend on certain moral facts? Can we describe these facts as natural?

Learning Outcomes:

By the end of the module students should be able to:

1. explain some of the major preoccupations and approaches of ethical theory;
2. analyse critically the debates surrounding them.

By the end of the module, students should also have acquired a set of transferable skills, and in particular be able to:

1. define the task in which they are engaged and exclude what is irrelevant;
2. seek and organise the most relevant discussions and sources of information;
3. process a large volume of diverse and sometimes conflicting arguments;
4. compare and evaluate different arguments and assess the limitations of their own position or procedure;
5. write and present verbally a succinct and precise account of positions, arguments, and their presuppositions and implications;
6. be sensitive to the positions of others and communicate their own views in ways that are accessible to them;
7. think 'laterally' and creatively - see interesting connections and possibilities and present these clearly rather than as vague hunches;
8. maintain intellectual flexibility and revise their own position if shown wrong;
9. think critically and constructively.