Study-Unit Description

Study-Unit Description


TITLE Ethics for Social Wellbeing

LEVEL 01 - Year 1 in Modular Undergraduate Course



DESCRIPTION Ethics is the art of living, relating with others, and being in the world. This study-unit engages with the theories, principles, and application of ethics in the field of social wellbeing. It has a strong theoretical aspect which introduces students to the history of ethics and the main philosophical approaches to ethical thinking, and then shows how these theories can inform analyses of ethical issues in the area of social wellbeing.

The study-unit starts with a discussion of the birth of ethics in Western philosophy by focusing on ancient thinkers such as Socrates, Plato, Aristotle, Epicurus and Epictetus, and their understanding of virtue, wellbeing and happiness. The study-unit then moves on to modern theories of ethics in the form of Immanuel Kant’s ethics of duty and John Stuart Mill’s utilitarian ethics. These theories will be applied to consider the limits of duty, the role of pleasure in ethics, and the ethics of truth-telling and lying. 19th and 20th century critical outlooks to ethics are then considered through the work of Friedrich Nietzsche, Sigmund Freud and existentialist thinkers. Moreover, the study-unit considers feminist contributions to ethics, through a consideration of the ethics of care of Carol Gilligan and Eva Kittay, and the ethics of gender issues.

Throughout the study-unit, ethical theories and ideas will be applied to consider themes such as identity and subjectivity, happiness and wellbeing, life and death, truth and lying, emotions and rationality, vulnerability and care, politics and community. These issues are related to the different areas of studies in social wellbeing, such as psychology, counselling, gender and sexuality studies, disability studies, social policy and social work.

Study-unit Aims:

This study-unit aims to:
• provide students with a grounding in the history and theories of philosophical ethics from ancient to modern and contemporary times;
• guide students in how to apply ethical thinking to real life situations that can be experienced in the field of social wellbeing;
• highlight the relevance of philosophical and ethical inquiry in the different fields of social wellbeing;
• unpack and evaluate what is meant by ‘social wellbeing’.

Learning Outcomes:

1. Knowledge & Understanding
By the end of the study-unit the student will be able to:

• outline the ethical theories discussed in the study-unit;
• apply ethical theories to real life situations related to social wellbeing;
• discuss and evaluate different ethical positions and discourses;
• critically explain central notions in ethics, such as virtue, duty, autonomy, care and responsibility;
• discuss issues in current affairs and politics with reference to ethical notions.

2. Skills
By the end of the study-unit the student will be able to:

• discuss and contrast different ethical theories and outlooks;
• conduct discussions on the nature of ethics and ethical notions;
• outline the historical development of central ethical notions and ideas;
• apply the ethical theories discussed in the study-unit to various issues of concern to the areas of social wellbeing;
• evaluate ethical choices in terms of the ethical theories discussed in the study-unit.

Main Text/s and any supplementary readings:

Main Readings:

• Aristotle, Nicomachean Ethics, trans. and eds. Sarah Broadie and Christopher Rowe (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2003).
• Carol Gilligan, In a Different Voice: Psychological Theory and Women’s Development (Massachusetts: Harvard University Press, 1982), ix-xxvii.
• Epictetus, Discourses, Fragments, Handbook, trans. Robin Hand (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2014), 287-304.
• Christine M. Korsgaard, “Introduction,” in Immanuel Kant, Groundwork of the Metaphysics of Morals, trans. and ed. Mary Gregor (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1997 [1785]), vii-xxx.
• Eva Feder Kittay, “The Ethics of Care, Dependence, and Disability,” Ratio Juris vol. 24, no. 1 (2011): 49-58.
• John Stuart Mill, “Utilitarianism” (1863; [open access]).
• Frederick Adolf Paola, Robert Walker and Lois LaCivita Nixon, Medical Ethics and Humanities (London: Jones and Bartlett Publishers, 2010), 39-64.
• Plato, The Last Days of Socrates (London: Penguin Classics, 2010).
• Peter Singer, “Famine, Affluence, and Morality,” Philosophy & Public Affairs vol. 1, no. 3 (1972): 229-243.
• Robert C. Solomon, Continental Philosophy since 1750: The Rise and Fall of the Self (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1988), 111-126; 173-193.
• Helga Vardens, “Kant and Lying to the Murderer at the Door... One More Time: Kant’s Legal Philosophy and Lies to Murderers and Nazis,” Journal of Social Philosophy vol. 41, no. 4 (2010): 403-421.

Supplementary Readings:

• Tom L. Beauchamp and James F. Childress, Principles of Biomedical Ethics 7th ed. (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2015).
• Tim Bond, Standards and Ethics for Counselling in Action. London: Sage.
• Judith Butler, Undoing Gender (New York: Routledge, 2004).
• Roger Crisp, Routledge Philosophy Guidebook to Mill on Utilitarianism (London: Routledge, 1997).
• Pierre Hadot, What is Ancient Philosophy? (Harvard: Harvard University Press, 2004).
• Gurcharan S. Rai (ed.) Medical Ethics and the Elderly, 4th ed. (London: Radcliffe Publishing, 2014).
• Shelley Tremain (ed.), Foucault and the Government of Disability (Michigan: University of Michigan Press, 2015).

STUDY-UNIT TYPE Lecture and Seminar

Assessment Component/s Assessment Due Resit Availability Weighting
Assignment SEM2 Yes 40%
Assignment SEM2 Yes 60%


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The availability of optional units may be subject to timetabling constraints.
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It should be noted that all the information in the description above applies to study-units available during the academic year 2020/1. It may be subject to change in subsequent years.