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Study information

Contemporary Ethics

Module titleContemporary Ethics
Module codePHLM015
Academic year2024/5
Module staff

Dr Christine Hauskeller (Convenor)

Duration: Term123
Duration: Weeks


Number students taking module (anticipated)


Module description

Developments in society, science and technology confront us as individuals and communities with complex challenges to which we must respond, because no response is a response, too, affecting our future and that of others. Post-metaphysical ethics is intrinsically connected to our self-understanding as humans. Scientific understandings of the human and normative ethical concepts influence each other. How we see ourselves and the society we live in affects what makes an ethical response. At the same time, ethical acts happen in often highly politicized or culturally regimented situations, which make it very difficult to decide what is right or wrong.

In this module we will discuss different contemporary ethical themes and literatures relating to understandings of human nature. Globalized Modernity is characterized by a pluralism of cultures and moral traditions that deserve ethical consideration. We will have a few anthropologists as guest lecturers who will inform and discuss with us their research into hospitality, women and culture, questions of life and death, ethics of virtue and ethics of care. Intersectional and postcolonial approaches will be discussed alongside more traditional ones.

Knowledge of established philosophical moral theories will be helpful, though an undergraduate degree in philosophy is not conditional.

Module aims - intentions of the module

This module aims to give you a broad understanding of present-day discussions in philosophical ethics.

The module covers concepts such as responsibility, power and self-understanding as a moral agent. The aim is arrive at an understanding of the challenges of and to ethics in our contemporary world by discussing specific examples such as humanitarian medical aid, transnational adoption and human genome editing. In these cases the interlinkages between knowledge, technologies, power relations, and human self-understanding are configures in complex ways. We explore them to develop a sharper understanding of ethics in the Anthropocene.

The aims of this module are twofold, to equip you with the philosophical knowledge to participate in ongoing debates about facts and values, and to advance your knowledge about current thought in ethics and the normative and epistemic assumptions they entail.

You will gain a good understanding of topical questions in philosophical ethics in theory and practice. We will discuss topical subjects in small groups and you will practice presenting arguments.

The writing of short review essays will advance your ability to summarize arguments succinctly and you will be guided to write one brief essay on a theme of your choice from the course.

Intended Learning Outcomes (ILOs)

ILO: Module-specific skills

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

  • 1. Demonstrate solid knowledge and understanding of current theories and problems in philosophical ethics;
  • 2. Demonstrate understanding of the methodological and conceptual problems of applied ethics;
  • 3. Present your own analyses of the implications of theories on pressing ethical debates of our time.

ILO: Discipline-specific skills

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

  • 4. Demonstrate a high level of knowledge about ethical theory and its application;
  • 5. Demonstrate sound knowledge of different types of philosophical ethics.

ILO: Personal and key skills

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

  • 6. Demonstrate capacity to conduct research independently;
  • 7. Demonstrate aptitude for succinct oral presentations to groups;
  • 8. Write reflective academic review and research essays.

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:

Practical and theoretical themes relating to current problems.  

The role of human nature arguments in current practical ethics such as interspecies ethics, violence, and responsibility in relation to oneself, others and global ethics on the one hand the importance of meaning, rules and normativity on the other.

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 Activities22 11 x 2 hours per week comprising of lectures and seminars
Scheduled Learning and Teaching Activities21 x 2 -hour workshop with student presentations
Guided Independent Study16Analyse one course reading and write a succinct summary of the key arguments of the text
Guided Independent Study60Reading of the module texts for each week
Guided Independent Study50Writing independent research essay. Conduct guided and independent research on a theme from the course; write a scholarly essay to be submitted after the end of term

Formative assessment

Form of assessmentSize of the assessment (eg length / duration)ILOs assessedFeedback method
Presentation of essay plan – voluntary10 minutes1-4, 6, 7Oral

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
Essay803,000 words1-6, 8Written
1 x Reading Review201 x 800 words1-5, 8Written

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

Original form of assessmentForm of re-assessmentILOs re-assessedTimescale for re-assessment
EssayEssay (3,000 words) (80%)1-5, 6, 8August/September reassessment period
Reading ReviewReading Summary (800 words) (20%)1-4, 6, 8August/September reassessment period

Indicative learning resources - Basic reading

Seyla Benhabib (2011) Dignity in Adversity. Human Rights in Troubled Times, Polity Press.


Ruha Benjamin (2018) Informed Refusal: Toward a Justice-based Bioethics. Science, Technology, & Human Values, 41(6):967-990.

Angela Davis (2012) The Meaning of Freedom and Other Difficult Dialogues, City Lights Press.

Frantz Fanon (1952). Black Skin, White Masks, pp. 64-88.

Christian Fuchs (2016), Critical Theory of Communication, University of Westminster Press, Chapter 6, pp. 177-206.

Hans Jonas (1973) Technology and Responsibility: Reflections on the New task of Ethics, Social Research Vol. 40/1, pp. 31-54.

Saba Mahmood (2005) ‘The Subject of Freedom’. The Politics of Piety: The Islamic Revival and the Feminist Subject. Oxford: Princeton University Press.

Val Plumwood (1993). Feminism and the Mastery of Nature.

Robbins, J. (2013). Beyond the suffering subject: toward an anthropology of the good. Journal of the Royal Anthropological Institute, 19(3), 447-462.

Adam Rosenblatt (2015) Digging for the Disappeared. Forensic Science after Atrocity. Stanford University Press.

Rush, M. (2019). Motivating propositional gratitude. Philosophical Studies, 177(5), pp.1191–1211.

Susan Sherwin (1992) No Longer Patient, Feminist Ethics and Health Care, Temple University Press.

Vandana Shiva (2005) Earth Democracy. Justice, Sustainability and Peace, North Atlantic Books.

Andrew Shryock 2008. “Thinking about Hospitality, with Derrida, Kant, and the Balga Bedouin.” Anthropos 103(2): 405-421.

Hugo Slim (2015) Humanitarian Ethics, Oxford University Press, part II, The Modern Elaboration of Humanitarian Principles, pp. 39-121.

Terry, F. (2002), Condemned to Repeat? The Paradox of Humanitarian Action, Cornell University Press, Chapter 1, pp. 17-55.


Key words search

Ethics, Human Nature, Pluralism, Life and Death, Critical Theory, Global Ethics, Feminism, Postcolonial Ethics.

Credit value15
Module ECTS


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NQF level (module)


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