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Morality, Society and Politics


  • Credit value: 30 credits at Level 4
  • Convenor and tutor: Professor Hallvard Lillehammer
  • Assessment: a 1000-word writing assignment (50%) and 1000-word examination (50%)

Module description

This is a foundational module which will introduce you to some of the most central problems in ethics and political philosophy, as well as some of the philosophical techniques typically used for dealing with them. We address a selection of questions such as:

  • What is morality?
  • Can claims about value ever be objectively true or false?
  • Is immoral behaviour irrational?
  • Are moral practices beliefs relative to one's culture?
  • What, if anything, grounds the claim that all humans are equal?
  • What does morality demand of our treatment of each other?
  • What is justice?
  • How do we address conflicts between different rights?
  • What is the source of political obligation?
  • Do democratic decisions possess a moral authority or legitimacy that other decisions lack, and if so why?
  • What is the proper role of expertise in democratic decision-making?
  • Should you obey laws with which you disagree, and if so why?
  • When is civil disobedience justified?

In this module we explore these issues through a combination of both influential historical texts and contemporary writings.

Indicative syllabus

  • The nature of morality
  • Objectivity of value
  • Rationality of immoral behaviour
  • Cultural relativism
  • Equality
  • Ethical obligation
  • Justice
  • Liberty
  • Rights
  • Political obligation
  • Democratic legitimacy
  • Expertise in decision-making
  • Civil disobedience

Learning objectives

By the end of this module, you will be able to:

  • understand philosophical approaches to such topics as: the nature of morality, the rationality of immoral behaviour, ethical obligation, challenges to moral practices, political obligation, democratic legitimacy, expertise in decision-making, the authority of laws, the just society, political equality, rights and liberties
  • identify some of the ways in which ethical and political theorising are open to ongoing debate and reformulation, by considering competing arguments in contemporary ethics concerning such topics as human equality, ethical objectivity, cultural relativism, the moral authority of democratic decisions, the role of consent and the justification of civil disobedience
  • identify the principles and concepts underlying different ethical theories and different accounts of political authority and legitimacy, identifying their strengths and weaknesses
  • apply taught criteria for evaluating philosophical accounts of such concepts as equality, obligation, rights, democracy, democratic consent, expertise, equality, justice and liberty.