PP2EA1-Ethical Argument 1: Philosophy and How to Live

Module Provider: Philosophy
Number of credits: 20 [10 ECTS credits]
Terms in which taught: Autumn term module
Non-modular pre-requisites:
Modules excluded:
Current from: 2017/8

Module Convenor: Prof Philip Stratton-Lake

Email: p.j.stratton-lake@reading.ac.uk

Type of module:

Summary module description:

This module introduces students to longstanding methods, issues and arguments in moral philosophy.


In this module, you will develop the skills involved in thinking and arguing in a distinctively philosophical way about what (if anything) matters, and how to live. Philosophers have written about these questions for thousands of years, and in this module you will learn how to read these writings in a charitable but critical way—this balance is essential for doing philosophy—to evaluate the arguments contained therein, and to contribute to the discussion.

Philosophy at Reading introduces you to progressive intellectual challenges and to consolidate your previous experience at each new level. In Pt.1, you will have received training in how to reason (in PP1RA: Reason & Argument), and perhaps how to reason in a more formal way (in PP1EL: Elementary Logic) and in ethical questions concerning the PP1ML: The Meaning of Life.

In this module, you will build on that knowledge and skills base by applying it to distinctively ethical questions. This will prepare you for Pt.3, where you can further develop your argumentative skills and knowledge of moral philosophy in an independent way, for example through a dissertation or in research-led modules which focus on cutting-edge issues.

You will confront your deep beliefs (about how to live and what is important) and assumptions in a philosophical way. This means that when you learn about current positions and debates in philosophy, some of them (such as nihilism or a stance in the abortion debate) may seem alien or even repugnant to you, but you will learn to evaluate the arguments for those positions.

In engaging with these arguments through formative and summative assessment—for example, through essays, short pieces of writing, and oral presentations—you will contribute to the philosophical debates, develop your transferable skills, and appreciate the strengths and weaknesses of arguments on both sides.

Because the module spans topics ranging from abstract issues about the nature of moral judgement, to urgent practical questions, you will learn about the diverse methods employed in different areas of ethics.

Assessable learning outcomes:

This module fits into the our graduated, supervised programme for developing independent-learning skills: where students have engaged in closely-supervised training in general philosophical methodology and argument in Pt.1, here they will apply those skills to the particular questions and distinctive methodology of moral philosophy. As such the assessable outcomes focus on understanding and contributing to the prominent debates in ethics, via two essays, in a reasonably closely-supervised way.

Students will be summatively assessed along three main dimensions.

First, their understanding and appreciation of the arguments of both current and historically prominent philosophers (perhaps more so than in other areas of philosophers, historical figures back to Aristotle are still ‘current’ in ethics).

Second, their understanding of how ethics is done: what do philosophers consider relevant and persuasive facts and arguments when doing moral philosophy, and why? (i.e., the epistemology of ethics).

In formative assessment (presentations and précis), transferable skills such as independently condensing and evaluating arguments, oral presentations, and posing and dealing with questions in discussion, are developed. In accord with the Pt.2 programme specification, these methods will focus on public discussion, via (for example) group exchange and commentary on précis.


Additional outcomes:

Outline content:

Topics covered on the module include those from metaethics, normative ethics, and applied or practical ethics:

In metaethics, philosophers argue about the very nature of morality. For example, are there moral facts or rules which apply to us independently of what we happen to think?

In normative ethics, philosophers set aside metaethical questions, and instead debate what morality requires or demands of us: are we obliged to give to charity, or to refrain from ever telling a lie?

In applied or practical ethics, pressing questions come to the fore. With normative ethical theories in mind, we consider the moral questions that we actually face: is abortion permissible? What about euthanasia? What duties do we owe to future generations? It is here that students will develop the Contextual aspect of the Curriculum Framework, because here interesting philosophical questions are also pressing practical questions.

Though the specific topics within each of these ‘subfields’ varies from year to year, the module will include some from each, ensuring that students are exposed to the philosophical methodology relevant to each.

Brief description of teaching and learning methods:

The module is taught by lectures and seminars. Students are expected to attend 20 hours of lectures and 10 hours of seminars. All students are required to write two essays from a list of questions supplied by the module convenor and to give one seminar presentation. In addition, in weeks in which a student is not giving a presentation, they will be required to write a short précis of the topic for discussion at a given seminar class. Students are encouraged to be active in all classes, asking questions and trying to answer the questions posed by others. A reading list and sample questions will be given out at the start of the module.

Contact hours:
  Autumn Spring Summer
Lectures 20
Seminars 10
Guided independent study 170
Total hours by term 200.00
Total hours for module 200.00

Summative Assessment Methods:
Method Percentage
Written assignment including essay 90
Oral assessment and presentation 10

Summative assessment- Examinations:

Summative assessment- Coursework and in-class tests:

2 x 45% written assignments

Formative assessment methods:

Students will write a short précis of the topic for discussion for every seminar class in which they are not doing a presentation. Some lectures may involve quizzes.

Penalties for late submission:
The Module Convener will apply the following penalties for work submitted late:

  • where the piece of work is submitted after the original deadline (or any formally agreed extension to the deadline): 10% of the total marks available for that piece of work will be deducted from the mark for each working day[1] (or part thereof) following the deadline up to a total of five working days;
  • where the piece of work is submitted more than five working days after the original deadline (or any formally agreed extension to the deadline): a mark of zero will be recorded.

  • The University policy statement on penalties for late submission can be found at: http://www.reading.ac.uk/web/FILES/qualitysupport/penaltiesforlatesubmission.pdf
    You are strongly advised to ensure that coursework is submitted by the relevant deadline. You should note that it is advisable to submit work in an unfinished state rather than to fail to submit any work.

    Assessment requirements for a pass:

    A mark of 40% overall

    Reassessment arrangements:

    Written assignment, to be completed in the Summer term.

    Additional Costs (specified where applicable):

    Last updated: 11 May 2018


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