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Module descriptions

7AAN2090 Morality and Convention


Credit value: 20
Module tutor: Professor David Owens


  • Summative assessment: one two-hour exam (100%)
  • Formative assessment: one 2,000-3,000-word essay

Students are reassessed in the failed elements of assessment and by the same methods as the first attempt.

Teaching pattern: One one-hour weekly lecture and one one-hour weekly seminar over ten weeks.
Pre-requisites: none.
Sample syllabusPlease see the Past syllabi section below for an indication of the syllabus for this module.

The module will ask what role is played in morality by social convention. It will address three general questions. First, what is a social convention and what is it for a convention to be in force in a given population, how are such conventions learnt or transmitted and how do they change? Second how ought we to react to the existence of a certain convention in our community?  Does the fact that certain forms of behaviour are conventionally required around here give us a reason to conform and, if so, what sort of reason does it give us? Third, how much of the social fabric of a developed society is conventional. There are norms defining family structures, games, and personal relationships (friendship, neighbourliness), systems of property rights and private law, rules of etiquette and communication etc. Are these rules, systems and norms purely conventional, partly conventional or not conventional at all?

Further information

Module aims
To introduce the notion of a social convention and the various forms of convention embodied in rules, laws, norms and so forth. To get students to apply the notion of a convention to various social institutions with which they are familiar in order to better understand to what extent the norms of those social institutions are the product of convention and to what extent they are the product of other factors.
Learning outcomes
Students will gain a better understanding of the notion of a social convention and of how it has been analysed by various social theorists. These social theorists will include philosophers, both historical and contemporary, and also some historians, social psychologists, sociologists and anthropologists. These writings will give students an understanding both of what it is for a social institution to be conventional and of which of the social institutions familiar to them are likely to be conventional.
Past syllabi

More detailed information on the current year’s module (including the syllabus for that year) can be accessed on KEATS by all students and staff. 

Core reading

D. Hume – Treatise on Human Nature Book 3, Part 2, Sections 1-12.

The modules run in each academic year are subject to change in line with staff availability and student demand so there is no guarantee every module will run. Module descriptions and information may vary depending between years.Blank space

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