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Module VPR-1331:
Living the Good Life

Module Facts

Run by School of History, Philosophy and Social Sciences

20 Credits or 10 ECTS Credits

Semester 2

Organiser: Dr Joshua Andrews

Overall aims and purpose

How should I live? How should I act? What does it mean to be moral? These are some of the fundamental questions we will seek to answer throughout this module, as we examine some of the most significant approaches to moral philosophy. The course will introduce students to some of the principal ethical theories that have dominated Western philosophy, exploring consequentialism, deontology and virtue ethics, allowing them to critically engage with the works of Mill, Kant and Aristotle, before applying these theories to some of the major ethical concerns of the 21st century. Students will then explore how these Western approaches to ethical thought differ from those theories, which have developed in the East, exploring the works of Confucius, the Buddha and Gandhi.

Course content

We will firstly examine the major differences between philosophical and religious ethics, asking whether humanity needs God in order to be moral. We shall then question what makes an action right or wrong, exploring a range of normative ethical theories, such as, consequentialism, deontology and virtue ethics, before applying these theories to a range of contemporary issues such as whether it is wrong to eat meat or whether terrorism can ever be considered moral. Finally, we will explore the relationship that exists between Eastern and Western ethics, questioning to what extent these distinct traditions can be considered comparable.

Assessment Criteria


Very Good B- - B+. Submitted work is competent throughout and distinguished by superior style, approach and choice of supporting materials. It demonstrates: • Very good structure and logically developed arguments. • Draws on material that has been sourced and assessed as a result of independent study, or in a way unique to the student. • Assertions are backed by evidence and sound reasoning. • Accuracy and presentation in an appropriate academic style.


D- - D +. Submitted work is adequate and shows an acceptable level of competence as follows:

• Generally accurate but with omissions and errors. • Assertions are made without clear supporting evidence or reasoning. • Has structure but is lacking in clarity and therefore relies on the reader to make links and assumptions. • Draws on a relatively narrow range of material.


A - - A*. Submitted work is of an outstanding quality and excellent in one or more of the following ways: • Has originality of exposition with the student’s own thinking being readily apparent. • Provides clear evidence of extensive and relevant independent study.  • Arguments are laid down with clarity and provide the reader with successive stages of consideration to reach conclusions.

C- to C+

Good C- - C +. • Submitted work is competent throughout and occasionally distinguished by superior style, approach and choice of supporting materials. It demonstrates: Good structure and logically developed arguments. • At least in parts draws on material that has been sourced and assessed as a result of independent study, or in a way unique to the student. • Assertions are, in the main, backed by evidence and sound reasoning. • Accuracy and presentation in an appropriate academic style.

Learning outcomes

  1. To construct a sustained argument applicable to the content of this course.

  2. To be able to evaluate a range of moral theories.

  3. To be able to apply the ethical theories studied to a range of contemporary moral issues e.g. abortion and euthanasia.

Assessment Methods

Type Name Description Weight
ORAL Individual Presentation

Students will complete a 25 minute oral presentation, where they will apply one Eastern and one Western ethical theory to a contemporary moral issue of their choice. This assignment is worth 35% of the student’s final grade.


Students will complete one essay (out of a choice of six), which will assess their ability to critically engage with the normative ethical theories explored throughout this module. This assignment is worth 65% of the student’s final grade.


Teaching and Learning Strategy


Lectures will introduce students to the various ethical theories and thinkers needed to complete both assignments. Through lectures, students will be introduced to a range of key theorists and ethical issues. There will be two hours of lectures each week for eleven weeks.

Private study

Students will be given directed reading to complete each week, these readings will be linked to specific topics that will be discussed in their subsequent lectures and seminars. Students will also be required to undertake detailed research in order to complete their written assignment, being encouraged to access a range of online publications and library resources. A selection of documentary films will be made available to them and it will be expected that students watch these during within a specified time frame.


Each week students will be given a case study based on a contemporary moral issue. Students will be expected to analyse the case study in order to share their thoughts in the weekly seminar. There will be a one hour seminar each week from week two untill week eleven.


Transferable skills

  • Literacy - Proficiency in reading and writing through a variety of media
  • Self-Management - Able to work unsupervised in an efficient, punctual and structured manner. To examine the outcomes of tasks and events, and judge levels of quality and importance
  • Exploring - Able to investigate, research and consider alternatives
  • Information retrieval - Able to access different and multiple sources of information
  • Critical analysis & Problem Solving - Able to deconstruct and analyse problems or complex situations. To find solutions to problems through analyses and exploration of all possibilities using appropriate methods, rescources and creativity.
  • Presentation - Able to clearly present information and explanations to an audience. Through the written or oral mode of communication accurately and concisely.
  • Argument - Able to put forward, debate and justify an opinion or a course of action, with an individual or in a wider group setting

Subject specific skills

  • Articulacy in identifying underlying issues in a wide variety of debates.
  • Precision of thought and expression in the analysis and formulation of complex and controversial problems.
  • Sensitivity in interpretation of religious and philosophical texts drawn from a variety of ages and/or traditions.
  • Clarity and rigour in the critical assessment of arguments presented in such texts.
  • The ability to construct rationally persuasive arguments for or against specific religious and philosophical claims.
  • The ability to move between generalisation and appropriately detailed discussion, inventing or discovering examples to support or challenge a position, and distinguishing relevant and irrelevant considerations.
  • The ability to consider unfamiliar ideas and ways of thinking, and to examine critically presuppositions and methods within the disciplines of philosophy and religion.


Talis Reading list

Reading list

Core Reading : • Kegan, Shelly, Normative Ethics (USA: Westview Press, 1997).

Wider Reading:

• Smart, J.J.C., 'Extreme and Restricted Utilitarianism', The Philosophical Quarterly, 6, no. 25 (1956): 344-54.

• Mill, John Stuart, Utilitarianism, ch. 5 'On the connexion between justice and utility'. The Cambridge University Press edition

• Nagel, Thomas, The View from Nowhere (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1986), ch. 9 'Ethics'.

• Ross, W. David, The Right and the Good, edited by P.Stratton-Lake (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2002), ch. 2 'What makes right acts right?'

• Aristotle, Nicomachean Ethics, edited by R. Crisp (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2000), bk. 1; bk. 2, chs. 1-7.

• Slote, Michael, 'Virtue Ethics', in M. Baron, P. Petit and M.A. Slote, eds., Three Methods of Ethics : A Debate (Oxford: Blackwell, 1997), pp. 175-238.

Courses including this module

Optional in courses: