Scientist's hand

Exploring the nature and origin of morality and looking at some difficult modern moral dilemmas

Module details

  • Offered to 2nd Years
  • Mondays 16.00-18.00
  • 2-term module worth 5 ECTS
  • Available to eligible students as part of I-Explore
  • Extra Credit or Degree Credit where your department allows
Degree credit module options by departmentHow to enrol

Ethics is the study of morality and can be loosely divided into two main strands of study. The first is meta-ethics, which is the study of moral theories about the nature and source of our moral intuitions. Ethics deals with abstract questions such as: Why be good? Are there such things as ‘moral facts’? Is morality objective or subjective? What obligations do we have to help others?

The second strand is practical ethics, which focuses on specific moral dilemmas or areas of moral dispute and tries to apply moral theories to specific cases. It deals with such questions as: Do my obligations to help others extend to helping them to die, should they ask me to? Is abortion morally wrong? What special obligations and responsibilities do scientific researchers have to society, to each other and to science itself? Do we have any moral obligations to animals? What does it mean to be ethical in business?

The module structure is designed to facilitate your analytical ability and moral literacy through a sustained analysis of the limits of moral responsibility and the extent of our obligations to other members of society, both as individuals and as members of specific professions. With this in mind the content will be split evenly between the study of meta-ethical theory and the practical application of those theories to moral dilemmas that are relevant to your core area of study.

Information blocks

Learning outcomes

Statue of greek philosopher

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

  • Develop awareness of the relations between local and wider moral intuitions, through practical dilemma examples discussed in class.
  • Critically reflect on the source of moral value and social responsibility, through class preparations.
  • Analyse, evaluate and construct written arguments through the delivery of two essays.
  • Integrate concepts and writing skills into an essay which links ethics and your core discipline.
  • Evaluate current curriculum provision and use digital tools to contribute to future philosophy curriculum development.

Indicative core content

Illustration of DNA

  • The roots of western philosophy as found in the works of Plato, including his moral theory and its fundamental claim that morality is objective and can be discovered by rational enquiry.
  • Aristotle’s claim that morality is a question of developing the right sort of habits of character, and the way that his views have influenced modern communitarian thinking about the role of character and virtue in our lives.
  • Kant’s claim that morality is a question of doing ones duty and an exploration of what duties we have to others if Kant’s model is correct.
  • The Utilitarian claim that morality is a question of creating the greatest happiness for the greatest number. An analysis of how such a model of ethical responsibility effects public policy, scientific research and economics.
  • The contemporary debate about whether there are such things as moral facts, and the relation between facts and values.
  • The deep question of whether morality is something that we can know through the use of our reason, or whether it is an expression of our desires and emotions.
  • Whether morality is objective or subjective, universal or culturally relative.
  • What obligations do businesses have to society at large and can business ever be a morally neutral activity?
  • Do businesses, or indeed all human beings, have an obligation to protect the environment?
  • What specific ethical dilemmas do scientific researchers face?
  • What, if any, special obligations do scientific researchers have to each other, to society at large or to science itself.
  • Is scientific research the value-neutral pursuit of truth, or is there no such thing as a value-neutral activity?
  • What constitutes an ethical businessperson?
  • What is the moral worth of different economic systems such as capitalism, socialism etc?
  • Is euthanasia morally acceptable, and do obligations to help others extend to helping them to die should they wish to?
  • Is abortion mortally wrong?
  • Can there ever be a morally just war?
  • What are the moral issues and problems surrounding weapons research?
  • The Nietzschean view that morality is the product of power relations.


  • Coursework: 1500-2000 word essay. This assessment has a lower weighting than the later essay of the same legnth, as it comes early in the course and you may not yet have much subject experience. (40%)
  • Coursework: 1500-2000 word essay. This assessment has a higher weighting than the prior essay of the same length because it comes at the end of the module and so will better evaluate your summative learning (60%)

Key information

  • Requirements: You are expected to attend all classes and undertake approximately 85 hours of independent study in total during the module. Independent study includes reading and preparation for classes, researching and writing coursework assignments and preparing for other assessments.
  • This module is designed as an undergraduate Level 5 course. See Imperial Horizons level descriptors [pdf]
"Loved it, a real highlight of my week."
"The course by far exceeded my expectations. I have enjoyed it and learnt a great deal and it has definitely changed my perspective of the world."
"A brilliant course which is very stimulating. I would often come in on Mondays just for Horizons!"
"Really enjoyed the content of the module, especially the later lectures where we were able to choose the topics covered. The structure of the module over the two terms is excellent with the approximately theoretical/applied split. I can't think of anything to improve the course apart from wishing it went on for another term!"
"Lectures are stimulating and the content is interesting. I particularly like when the lecturer asks questions to debate which are not easy to decide on."
"every topic is covered with such depth and genuine interest. I also really enjoy the way the lectures are structured with an emphasis on discussion and debate in the second half."