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Level 5

5AANA005 Ethics II: History of Ethical Philosophy


Credit value: 15
Module tutor: Professor Thomas Pink


  • Summative assessment: 1 x 2,500 word essay (100%)
  • Formative assessment: 1 x 2,000 word essay


  • Summative assessment: 2 x 2,000 word essays (50% each) 
  • Formative assessment: 1 x 2,000 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.

The module will introduce students to the ethical theories of 18th Century British Moral Philosophers, focusing on Hume, and will explain their significance for modern ethical theory. The course will relate their thought to continuing debates about moral rationality, moral objectivity, moral virtue and moral obligation.

Indicative list of topics: The moral philosophy of Shaftesbury, Mandeville, Hutcheson, Butler, and Hume

Further information

Module Aims
Learning Outcomes
Past Syllabi
Core Reading

Module aims

To communicate an understanding of central ideas in the ethical thought of some past moral philosophers.

To situate each thinker in his historical context.

To relate the work of each thinker to contemporary debates in ethical theory.

To equip students to read critically and reflect upon central texts in moral theory, as well as introductory and secondary material.

Learning outcomes

By the end of the module, the students will be able to demonstrate intellectual, transferable and practicable skills appropriate to a Level 5 module and in particular will be able to exhibit:

  • a capacity for ethical argument.
  • a knowledge of the ethical doctrines of some past moral philosophers, and the similarities and differences between them.
  • an understanding of the nature of some central problems in moral philosophy.
  • an understanding of how problems in moral philosophy relate to human life.

Past syllabi

Please note that module syllabus and topics covered may vary from year to year.

Core reading

Reading – Part 1 (First five weeks)

Primary Texts

J. B. Schneewind (ed.) Moral Philosophy from Montaigne to Kant. Cambridge, 2003.



D. D. Raphael (ed.) British Moralists 1650-1800 (2 volumes). Hackett, 1991.



L.A. Selby-Bigge (ed.)British Moralists

[NB – References below to readings for Part I are to the Schneewind (2003) collection, but any of the relevant portions of one of the three collections above will suffice]

General Reading

Stephen Darwall, The British Moralists and the Internal ‘Ought’: 1640-1740. Cambridge, 1995.

Irwin, The Development of Ethics, Vol. II: From Suarez to Rousseau. Oxford, 2008.

J. B. Schneewind, The Invention of Autonomy. Cambridge, 1998.

Reading – Part II (second five weeks)

Primary Texts

A Treatise of Human Nature, (ed Selby-Bigge, OUP) esp:

                                Book II Part 3 Of the will and direct passions

                                Book III Of morals

An Enquiry concerning the Principles of Morals  (ed Selby Bigge, OUP)

'Of the standard of taste' and 'Of the original contract' in Essays Moral, Political and Literary (ed E. Miller, Liberty Classics)

General Reading

                Passion and Value in Hume's Treatise, P. Ardal, Edinburgh 1966

A Progress of Sentiments, A. Baier, Harvard 1991

The Cambridge Companion to Hume ed D. Fate Norton, Cambridge - see esp 'Hume, human nature, and the foundations of morality'

The Pursuit of Certainty, S. Letwin, Cambridge - chapter on Hume

Hume's Moral Theory J.L. Mackie, RKP 1980

Hume, B. Stroud, RKP 1977 


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 between years.

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