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Study information

Virtues and Vices

Module titleVirtues and Vices
Module codePHL3013
Academic year2024/5
Module staff

Dr Edward Skidelsky (Convenor)

Duration: Term123
Duration: Weeks


Number students taking module (anticipated)


Module description

This module is an introduction to the tradition in moral philosophy known as “virtue ethics”. It investigates the concepts of virtue and vice in general and also some specific virtues and vices. In the first part, we look at some well-known questions about the concept of virtue: What is a virtue? What is the relation of virtue ethics to other styles of ethical theory? Can the virtues be taught? Can they be codified? Do the virtues benefit their possessor? Can an individual possess one virtue but not others? In the second part of the course, we go on to analyse some specific virtues and vices, including the four cardinal virtues and the economic, sexual and military virtues and vices. 

Module aims - intentions of the module

This module aims to introduce students to virtue ethics and to contrast it with other approaches in moral philosophy. It will familiarise students with a major tradition in ethics and equip them with the techniques required to read, understand and criticise philosophical arguments. It will complement other modules in ethics and political philosophy, and is also available to students from other schools and departments.  

Intended Learning Outcomes (ILOs)

ILO: Module-specific skills

On successfully completing the module you will be able to...

  • 1. think knowledgeably about the virtues and vices;
  • 2. read and understand key texts in ethics;

ILO: Discipline-specific skills

On successfully completing the module you will be able to...

  • 3. reflect clearly and rationally on ethical questions;
  • 4. articulate and defend a point of view and assess the views of others;

ILO: Personal and key skills

On successfully completing the module you will be able to...

  • 5. write coherent, well-argued essays; and
  • 6. think carefully and independently.

Syllabus plan

Whilst the precise content may vary from year to year, it is envisaged that the syllabus will cover all or some of the following topics:

  • Introduction
  • Virtue Ethics: for and against
  • What is a virtue? What is a vice?
  • Virtues and duties.
  • Virtues and happiness.
  • The cardinal virtues: wisdom, justice, courage and temperance
  • The economic virtues and vices: thrift, generosity, greed and avarice
  • The sexual virtues and vices: chastity, modesty and lust
  • The military virtues and vices: courage, cowardice and foolhardiness
  • Virtues pagan and Christian
  • Conclusion

Learning activities and teaching methods (given in hours of study time)

Scheduled Learning and Teaching ActivitiesGuided independent studyPlacement / study abroad

Details of learning activities and teaching methods

CategoryHours of study timeDescription
Scheduled Learning and Teaching activity 2211 x 2 hours per week comprising of lectures and seminars
Guided Independent study128Reading, preparing classwork, writing essays and preparing for the exam

Formative assessment

Form of assessmentSize of the assessment (eg length / duration)ILOs assessedFeedback method
Essay plan 250 words1-6Written comments and classroom discussion

Summative assessment (% of credit)

CourseworkWritten examsPractical exams

Details of summative assessment

Form of assessment% of creditSize of the assessment (eg length / duration)ILOs assessedFeedback method
Essay501,000 words1-6Written
Exam501 hour 30 minutes1-6Written

Details of re-assessment (where required by referral or deferral)

Original form of assessmentForm of re-assessmentILOs re-assessedTimescale for re-assessment
EssayEssay (1,000 words)1-6August/September reassessment period
ExamExam (1 hour 30 minutes1-6August/September reassessment period

Indicative learning resources - Basic reading

Aristotle, Nicomachean Ethics

Philippa Foot, Virtues and Vices

Philippa Foot, Natural Goodness

Peter Geach, The Virtues

Rosalind Hursthouse, Virtue Ethics

Alasdair MacIntyre, After Virtue

Indicative learning resources - Web based and electronic resources


Key words search

Ethics, Virtue, Vice

Credit value15
Module ECTS


Module pre-requisites


Module co-requisites


NQF level (module)


Available as distance learning?


Origin date

January 2013

Last revision date