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


  • None

Excluded Combination of Modules

  • None


  • To introduce students to the key philosophical questions in research ethics
  • To provide students with the tools to understand the links between ethical theory and scientific practice
  • To provide students with the opportunity to reflect on the responsibilities that scientists, research subjects, and citizens jointly have for the wise direction and use of scientific research
  • To examine ethical issues and concepts in process of doing research
  • To promote a critical understanding of ethical issues that researchers confront at the heart of public debates about their ideas and authority.
  • To provide students with the knowledge and skills required to research and write about a specific topic on research ethics under the guidance of members of staff
  • To introduce students to debates at the cutting edge of philosophical research in general and ethical theory in particular and examine how they apply to cases in social and natural sciences research


  • Topics will be drawn on some or of the following:
  • When and how various ethical traditions are relevant to scientific research
  • How ethical obligations and legal compliance relate to science research
  • Is science value free?
  • Trust and accountability
  • Ethic of stewardship
  • Epistemic injustice and credibility in research
  • Respect, science and social responsibility
  • Care and autonomy
  • What ethical issues arise in the conduct of human subject research
  • Data acquisition and the ethics of information

Learning Outcomes

Subject-specific Knowledge:
  • Students will:
  • Understand the main ethical challenges scientists face in their research and their relationship with different stakeholders in society
  • Know about how specific ethical theories apply to resolve ethical dilemmas which arise from the relationship between scientists and multiple stakeholders
  • Apply ethical thinking and tools of analysis to real life cases and examples
  • Understand the context of science that shape the debate and influence current discussion in research ethics
  • Be able to draw parallels between different kinds of cases and examples by means of conceptual analysis and philosophical theory
  • Recognise the relevance of philosophical and ethical research to many dimensions of scientific research and practice
Subject-specific Skills:
  • Students will be able to:
  • Identify key issues, questions and debates in research ethics at multiple science contexts
  • Draw analogies between these issues, questions and debates
  • Identify and make use of relevant literature
  • Identify an ethical problem in scientific research, articulate and analyse an ethical position and employ critical skills to address the problem
  • Write an essay which answers a question in an appropriately focused manner, with a clear and concise discussion of the topic area and a structured argument
Key Skills:
  • Students will be able to:
  • Identify and locate research materials
  • Write in a clear and rigorous style
  • Manage their time efficiently
  • Pursue interdisciplinary research
  • Make responsible decisions about their chosen essay topic
  • Think clearly and independently about ethical issues they encounter in practice

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

  • Most of the teaching will take the form of seminars, which will consist of a 1 hour lecture followed by a 1 hour discussion. In the seminars, we will address questions that are central to the relevant field and apply ethical thinking to social and natural science research real life cases. Students will have the opportunity to ask questions and debate the topics outlined in the lecture, and will be encouraged to develop their own opinions and defend their own points of view with the help of philosophical concepts and distinctions. They will be guided through the material and have a chance to develop both their analytic and argumentative skills.
  • Towards the end of the module the students will attend a workshop focusing on specific applications of the theories they have studied. During this workshop students will present a team-based case study. They will defend their arguments by responding to questions. This will help students to develop their skills for collaborative ethical decision making. Students will also have the opportunity to discuss their arguments with professional researchers who will be invited at the workshop.
  • This module will be open to MA students from other departments. Students from other Departments will also be able to take this module, corresponding to a 30 credit elective, conditional on permission from their home Department.

Teaching Methods and Learning Hours

Activity Number Frequency Duration Total/Hours
Seminars 7 weekly 2 hours 14
Preparation and Reading 286
Total 300

Summative Assessment

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

Formative Assessment:

One formative essay of 1,500 words developed for a workshop presentation

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