The details
Philosophical, Historical, and Interdisciplinary Studies (School of)
Colchester Campus
Undergraduate: Level 5
Thursday 03 October 2024
Friday 13 December 2024
08 May 2024


Requisites for this module



Key module for

BA V500 Philosophy,
BA V501 Philosophy (Including Year Abroad),
BA V502 Philosophy (Including Foundation Year),
BA V503 Philosophy (including Placement Year),
BA V508 Philosophy (Including Foundation Year and Year Abroad),
MPHIV599 Philosophy,
MPHIVA98 Philosophy (Including Placement Year),
MPHIVA99 Philosophy (Including Year Abroad),
BA V5M8 Philosophy with Human Rights (Including Foundation Year),
BA V5M9 Philosophy with Human Rights,
BA V5MX Philosophy with Human Rights (Including Year Abroad),
BA V6M9 Philosophy with Human Rights (Including Placement Year),
BA VLM8 Philosophy with Human Rights (Including Foundation Year and Year Abroad),
BA VV56 Philosophy, Religion and Ethics,
BA VV57 Philosophy, Religion and Ethics (Including Placement Year),
BA VV58 Philosophy, Religion and Ethics (Including Foundation Year),
BA VV59 Philosophy, Religion and Ethics (Including Foundation Year and Year Abroad),
BA VV5P Philosophy, Religion and Ethics (Including Year Abroad),
BA VV20 Philosophy with Business Management,
BA VV21 Philosophy with Business Management (Including Foundation Year),
BA VV22 Philosophy with Business Management (Including Placement Year),
BA VV23 Philosophy with Business Management (Including Year Abroad),
BA V5L5 Philosophy, Ethics and Sustainability,
BA V5L6 Philosophy, Ethics and Sustainability (Including Foundation Year),
BA V5L7 Philosophy, Ethics and Sustainability (Including Placement Year),
BA V5L8 Philosophy, Ethics and Sustainability (Including Year Abroad)

Module description

This is a module in ethical theory rather than applied ethics – that is, it takes up theoretical questions about the status and justification of morality rather than addressing directly practical moral problems. The exact focus will vary from year-to-year.

In this year’s version of 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 is only relative to the standards of one's culture, is the idea that we can ask and give moral reasons undermined, or significantly limited? Similarly, 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 also 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. We will look at these and other challenges to morality, and 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?

Module aims

The aims of this module are:

  • To introduce students to main problems of contemporary metaethics.

  • To analyse the differences and connections between metaethics, normative ethics and other registers of moral thinking.

  • To familiarise students with the main theories of metaethics, and to analyse their strenghts and weaknesses.

  • To introduce students to the work of contemporary moral philosophers.

  • To evaluate the prospects and limits of metaethics as a mode of moral thinking.

  • To assess the extent to which metaethics can account for certain crucial aspects of moral experience.

Module learning outcomes

By the end of this module, students will be expected to 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. Find and understand the most relevant discussions and sources of information; process a large volume of diverse and sometimes conflicting arguments by re-framing them in the student’s own terms.

  3. Compare and evaluate different arguments and assess the limitations of their own position or procedure.

  4. Write a succinct and precise account of positions, arguments, and their presuppositions and implications.

  5. Be sensitive to the positions of others and communicate their own views in ways that are accessible to them.

  6. Think ‘laterally’ and creatively – see interesting connections and possibilities and present these clearly rather than as vague hunches.

  7. Maintain intellectual flexibility and revise their own position if shown wrong.

  8. Think and write critically and constructively on the spot in workshop conditions.

Module information

Incoming Study Abroad students must have already taken an introductory module in Philosophy at their home institution.

Learning and teaching methods

This module frontloads lectures in the first half of the term, with the second half focusing on student research and writing.

There will be no distinction in the timetable between lecture and discussion: each two hour class meeting will involve both lecture and discussion elements in which all students will participate.


This module does not appear to have a published bibliography for this year.

Assessment items, weightings and deadlines

Coursework / exam Description Deadline Coursework weighting
Coursework   Annotated Bibliography    20% 
Coursework   Essay (2000 words)    40% 
Coursework   Draft    15% 
Coursework   Peer Review    10% 
Practical   Weekly Reading Quizzes TOTAL    15% 

Exam format definitions

  • Remote, open book: Your exam will take place remotely via an online learning platform. You may refer to any physical or electronic materials during the exam.
  • In-person, open book: Your exam will take place on campus under invigilation. You may refer to any physical materials such as paper study notes or a textbook during the exam. Electronic devices may not be used in the exam.
  • In-person, open book (restricted): The exam will take place on campus under invigilation. You may refer only to specific physical materials such as a named textbook during the exam. Permitted materials will be specified by your department. Electronic devices may not be used in the exam.
  • In-person, closed book: The exam will take place on campus under invigilation. You may not refer to any physical materials or electronic devices during the exam. There may be times when a paper dictionary, for example, may be permitted in an otherwise closed book exam. Any exceptions will be specified by your department.

Your department will provide further guidance before your exams.

Overall assessment

Coursework Exam
100% 0%


Coursework Exam
100% 0%
Module supervisor and teaching staff
Prof Irene McMullin, email:
PHAIS General Office - 6.130;



External examiner

Dr Josiah Saunders
Durham University
Associate Professor
Available via Moodle
Of 14 hours, 8 (57.1%) hours available to students:
0 hours not recorded due to service coverage or fault;
6 hours not recorded due to opt-out by lecturer(s), module, or event type.


* Please note: due to differing publication schedules, items marked with an asterisk (*) base their information upon the previous academic year.

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