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Study information

The Nature of Normativity

Module titleThe Nature of Normativity
Module codePHL3056
Academic year2024/5
Module staff

Dr Sam Wilkinson (Convenor)

Duration: Term123
Duration: Weeks


Number students taking module (anticipated)


Module description

In this module you will examine core debates surrounding the nature of normativity. What is normativity? How do we account for normative practice and discourse within the natural world (a world without anything supernatural). These questions are here framed in the most general way, but perhaps different area of normativity require different treatment. We examine moral norms, non-moral social norms (like politeness), epistemic and informational norms, and, finally, medical norms. We also examine the consequences of different views of the nature of normativity for the normative domains themselves. Do they promote relativism or absolutism or particularism about that domain?

Module aims - intentions of the module

The aim of this module is to introduce you to core debates surrounding the nature of normativity. It will present, explore and critically evaluate different approaches, positions and theories within these debates, and will elucidate connections between these and theoretical commitments in other areas of philosophy (e.g. philosophy of mind or ethics). You will therefore enrich your thinking not only about the nature of normativity, but also about other areas in philosophy. It will also encourage you to think critically and constructively about current norms policies, in for example, legal and psychiatric contexts.

Intended Learning Outcomes (ILOs)

ILO: Module-specific skills

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

  • 1. Identify and cogently discuss the key methods, questions, themes and topics surrounding the nature of normativity and draw connections with those in other areas of philosophy
  • 2. Critically distinguish and evaluate different approaches and arguments within core debates surrounding the nature of normativity, and appreciate the consequences that these have for positions in other areas of philosophy.

ILO: Discipline-specific skills

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

  • 3. Demonstrate a high level of understanding of the interrelation between different positions on the nature of normativity, and their consequences and commitments for all areas of normative practice.
  • 4. Demonstrate sound knowledge of different types of philosophical analysis.

ILO: Personal and key skills

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

  • 5. Demonstrate a significantly expanded philosophical vocabulary and understanding with respect to key ideas in philosophy of normativity and how this relates to philosophical approaches in other areas of philosophy
  • 6. Conduct research independently, engaging with complex ideas and problems while developing original research insights.
  • 7. Engage in complex and high level argumentation both orally and through writing.

Syllabus plan

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

  1. Four key issues
  2. Non-naturalism
  3. Expressivism
  4. Error Theory and Fictionalism
  5. Naturalism
  6. Social norms
  7. Epistemic norms
  8. Biological norms
  9. Medical norms
  10. Psychiatric norms
  11. Outstanding Issues and recap

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 Activities2211 x weekly 2-hour lectures/seminars or 1 hour lecture + 1 hour seminar
Guided Independent Study44Preparation for lectures and seminars
Guided Independent Study84Independent research for presentation and coursework essay

Formative assessment

Form of assessmentSize of the assessment (eg length / duration)ILOs assessedFeedback method
Essay plan1 x 500 words1-7Written

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
Essay 1501800 words1-7Written
Essay 2501800 words1-7Written

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

Original form of assessmentForm of re-assessmentILOs re-assessedTimescale for re-assessment
Essay 11,800 words1-7August/September reassessment period
Essay 21,800 words1-7August/September reassessment period

Indicative learning resources - Basic reading

Ayer, A. J., (1946). “A Critique of Ethics,” in Language, Truth and Logic, London: Gollanz, pp. 102–114.

Chrisman, M. (2016) What is this thing called Metaethics? Routledge

Wedgwood, Ralph, (2007). The Nature of Normativity, Oxford: Clarendon Press.

Key words search

Norms; Normativity; Ethics; Metaethics

Credit value15
Module ECTS


Module pre-requisites


Module co-requisites


NQF level (module)


Available as distance learning?


Last revision date