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PI7106 Ethics

  • ECTS Weighting: 10
  • Semester/Term Taught: Hilary Term
  • Contact Hours:11 x 2-hour seminars; 4 supervision hours; 174 hours of independent study
  • Module Personnel: Dr Rachel Handley

Module Content

In this module we will explore contemporary metaethics via a reading of Michael Smith’s The Moral Problem. Each week we will look at a section of his book along with supplementary reading. This course should serve as advanced but not specialised, that is, it will introduce you to interesting and important theories and claims in metaethics in an advanced way, but not assume you have prior knowledge of the debates.

We will, in particular, focus on the following questions and topics:

1. What is ‘the moral problem’?
2. What is expressivism?
3. Which challenges do naturalist and non-naturalist theories face?
4. External moral motivation and the problem of psychopathy.
5. Hume and internal moral motivation.
6. Do moral facts exist?

Learning Aims

  • This module will serve as an advanced introduction to some of the key problems in metaethics, as such, the main aim is for students to understand and be able to critically evaluate various contemporary problems and theories in metaethics.
  • To introduce students to some key philosophical debates in metaethics.
  • To develop students critical and writing skills.

Learning Outcomes

  • For students to be able to critically evaluate the theory of expressivism.
  • For students to understand the key aspects of the debate on moral motivation.
  • For students to have a clear understanding of the challenges that naturalist and non-naturalist theories face.


The basis for the assessment of this module will consist of one written essay of 1500 words (50%) and a class presentation (50%). Students must attach a cover sheet to all Philosophy essays.

The word count includes footnotes but it does not include the bibliography. Essays that go over the limit will be liable for a 5 mark deduction.

Students may request an extension by contacting the MPhil Coordinator Dr Ben White.

Recommended Reading List

As advised/circulated by lecturer during the lecture series.