Durham University
Programme and Module Handbook

Postgraduate Programme and Module Handbook 2018-2019 (archived)


Department: Philosophy


Type Open Level 4 Credits 30 Availability Available in 2018/19 Module Cap


  • None.


  • None.

Excluded Combination of Modules

  • None.


  • To introduce students to a range of topics, debates and concepts prominent in contemporary philosophical research in ethics, through structured group discussion of influential journal articles, chapters and books.
  • To promote an advanced critical understanding of different theories, approaches and opinions relating to the topics under discussion.
  • To provide students with the knowledge and skills required to pursue self-directed research on a specific topic, under the direction of a member of staff.
  • To enable students to reflect critically on different views as to how research in normative and meta-ethics should be pursued.
  • To introduce students to debates at the cutting edge of philosophical research, where there is much work to be done and considerable scope for original contributions, with a view to encouraging PhD research in the field.


  • The seminars will address seven topics that have been the focus of considerable recent attention:
  • Consequentialism and deontology
  • Consequentialism and rationality.
  • The idea of virtue.
  • Ethics and emotion: love.
  • Love in a consequentialist perspective.
  • Ethics and emotion: death.
  • The idea of evil: understanding the Holocaust.

Learning Outcomes

Subject-specific Knowledge:
  • Students will:
  • acquire an appreciation of how research in normative and meta-ethics ought to be pursued;
  • become acquainted with a range of important issues raised by some of the most notable recent contributions to philosophical research on normative ethics and metaethics;
  • relate some of these issues to a more specific research question;
  • acquire an advanced, in-depth knowledge of recent research in at least one of the seven areas discussed.
Subject-specific Skills:
  • Students will be able to:
  • identify key issues, questions and debates in the areas of normative and meta-ethics;
  • understand more thoroughly the mutual bearing of normative ethics and meta-ethics;
  • identify and make use of pertinent literature;
  • review critically some recent work on ethics in a clear and structured fashion;
  • identify a philosophical problem, formulate a distinctive position and employ advanced critical skills and conceptual knowledge to address the problem and defend the position;
  • write an essay with an appropriately-focused research question, a clear, knowledgeable discussion of the topic area, and a structured argument. Essays will display evidence of critical understanding and innovative philosophical thought.
Key Skills:
  • Students will be able to:
  • identify and locate appropriate research materials;
  • write in a clear, rigorous, argumentative style;
  • manage their time effectively;
  • use their judgment in choosing a research topic;
  • exercise self-discipline, responsibility and autonomy in pursuing a research project.

Modes of Teaching, Learning and Assessment and how these contribute to the learning outcomes of the module

  • Seminars provide structured group teaching, addressing issues that are central to recent research in ethics. Seminars also provide the opportunity for group discussion, allowing students to clarify points and refine their views through interaction with the seminar leader and their peers. Through seminars, students will develop further their argumentative abilities and learn to put forward their views in a clear and well-organised manner.
  • One-to-one supervisions are tailored specifically to the research projects of individual students, providing a valuable opportunity for them to clarify and discuss ideas. One-to-one supervisions will also assist students in locating relevant library resources, formulating appropriate and concise essay topics, and working out argument structures. Supervision sessions are also used to offer critical feedback on draft essays, prior to submission.
  • Students are encouraged to attend the weekly student-led Taught MA in Philosophy Work-in-Progress Seminar, where they will be encouraged to present their ideas to peers and seek responses. They are also encouraged to attend relevant EIDOS (postgraduate philosophy society) talks and departmental Research Seminars.
  • Students will write a formative essay which reviews a key text or philosophical position discussed in seminars, makes some of its presuppositions explicit and outlines at least one potential objection. Feedback on the formative assignment will assist students in preparing the summative assignment.
  • For the summative essay, students will be required to focus on a specific research question, demonstrate advanced knowledge of the relevant literature, develop a critical understanding of relevant ideas and arguments, and defend a position in the form of a clear, structured philosophical argument.

Teaching Methods and Learning Hours

Activity Number Frequency Duration Total/Hours
Seminars 7 Weekly 2 hours 14
One-to-one Supervisions 4 Flexible, as required 1 hour 4
Preparation and Reading 282
Total 300

Summative Assessment

Component: Essay Component Weighting: 100%
Element Length / duration Element Weighting Resit Opportunity
Essay 5000 words 100%

Formative Assessment:

An essay of 2000 words.

Attendance at all activities marked with this symbol will be monitored. Students who fail to attend these activities, or to complete the summative or formative assessment specified above, will be subject to the procedures defined in the University's General Regulation V, and may be required to leave the University