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
  • Planned delivery: On campus (South Kensington)
  • 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. Meta-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? 

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

On successful completion of this module, you will be able to:

  • Analyse, evaluate and construct written philosophical arguments.
  • Critically reflect on the source of moral value and social responsibility.
  • Integrate concepts and writing skills into an essay which links ethics and your core discipline.
  • Identify some of the major theories in philosophical ethics.

Indicative core content

The module will survey not only the roots of Western moral philosophy as found in the classic texts of thinkers such as Plato, Aristotle, Kant, Hobbes and Mill, but will also explore more modern developments and trends in moral thinking, such as those of feminist ethics, communitarianism, existentialism and pragmatism. Through analysis and discussion of these texts and schools of thought, we will address questions such as whether there can be such things as moral facts, the relation between facts and values, whether morality is subjective or relative to one's culture or is universal, as well as whether morality is an expression of our emotions or of our rational understanding. These meta-ethical discussions and insights will then be developed and applied to more practical questions related to fields such as business and scientific research, as well as to prominent contemporary debates such the moral status of animals, the practices of abortion and euthanasia and the ethical questions raised by modern computing technology.

Learning and teaching approach

Discussion is built into the classroom sessions, both in small groups and as a whole class. All lecture material is debated and discussed in class. You are also required to do preparatory reading that will be discussed in class. You will be encouraged to test your ideas in class through exercises designed to encourage interdisciplinary sharing of ideas. With this in mind, there will also be the opportunity to engage in role play exercises involving real life moral dilemmas, as a means of developing your ability to grasp the moral structure of complex situations. You will also be given ongoing guidance and advice on how to structure and develop your ideas into coherent arguments as preparation for developing them in written form in the essay assessments.

Summative assessments are submitted via the module VLE, through which written feedback is supplied. The module also features tutorials on essay technique and how to research and plan a discursive essay. Extensive support materials on essay writing will also be provided for the assessments through the VLE.


  • Coursework: 1500-2000 word essay due after the end of term 1 (40%)
    This assessment has a lower weighting than the later essay of the same length, as it comes early in the course and you may not yet have much subject experience
  • Coursework: 1500-2000 word essay due after the end of term 2 (60%)
    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

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 module. For an explanation of levels, view the Imperial Horizons Level Descriptors page.‌
"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."