Credit points


Campus offering

No unit offerings are currently available for this unit



Teaching organisation

This unit involves 150 hours of focused learning. The total includes formally structured learning activities such as lectures, tutorials, online learning, video-conferencing, or supervision. The remaining hours typically involve reading, research, and the preparation of tasks for assessment.

Unit rationale, description and aim

This unit introduces students to key debates and theories in the contemporary field of ethics (or moral philosophy). It provides a critical introduction to some of the key ethical theories developed in the history of philosophy and explores how these theories interact with accounts of human nature, community, and the good life. Through the frequent use of current examples or case studies of current ethical problems and debates, students are enabled to engage with a variety of approaches, and to develop reasoned positions of their own. The unit aims to strengthen students’ critical thinking and philosophical acumen, and to provide them with the knowledge and skills necessary to engage constructively and critically in important debates.  

Learning outcomes

To successfully complete this unit you will be able to demonstrate you have achieved the learning outcomes (LO) detailed in the below table.

Each outcome is informed by a number of graduate capabilities (GC) to ensure your work in this, and every unit, is part of a larger goal of graduating from ACU with the attributes of insight, empathy, imagination and impact.

Explore the graduate capabilities.

On successful completion of this unit, students should be able to:

LO1 - demonstrate comprehension of some central problems and theories in metaethics and normative ethics (GA5; GA9);

LO2 - critically analyse these debates and theories, noting ways in which theoretical reflection in ethics can be applied in practical situations (GA3; GA4; GA8);

LO3 - demonstrate appropriate skills in philosophical research, and clear use of philosophically effective English expression (GA5; GA9).

Graduate attributes

GA3 - apply ethical perspectives in informed decision making

GA4 - think critically and reflectively 

GA5 - demonstrate values, knowledge, skills and attitudes appropriate to the discipline and/or profession 

GA8 - locate, organise, analyse, synthesise and evaluate information 

GA9 - demonstrate effective communication in oral and written English language and visual media 


Topics will include:

  • Ethics, happiness and the good life
  • Issues in metaethics such as:
  • The concept of ethical realism
  • Other accounts of moral disagreement: scepticism, cultural relativism, subjectivism and ethical realism
  • The problem of the nature of ethics: egoism, rationalism, intuitivism
  • Ethics and religion
  • Other topics may include: the problem of moral luck; and issues in moral psychology concerning freedom, emotion, conscience and intentions.
  • Models of normative ethics:
  • Utilitarianism and other forms of consequentialism;
  • Deontological ethics;
  • Virtue ethics;
  • Natural Law Approaches;
  • Other models may include contractarianism; ethics of care.

Learning and teaching strategy and rationale

This unit involves 150 hours of focused learning. The total includes formally structured learning activities such as lectures, tutorials and online learning. The remaining hours typically involve reading, research, and the preparation of tasks for assessment. The unit has been designed as a blend of collaborative learning and project-based learning approaches, combined with direct instruction to introduce and draw out new and unfamiliar concepts and theories. The collaborative context of the unit is focused especially on the small group discussion of the weekly readings. The project-based aspect relates to the research project on which students work throughout the second half of the unit, culminating in their research essay. 

Assessment strategy and rationale

The assessment strategy for this unit is designed to facilitate broad engagement across the topics covered, while also requiring deeper engagement with one of the unit topics in particular. The tutorial oral and accompanying short written task require students to demonstrate skills in attentive and accurate reading of a key text, and to explicate it in clear and concise oral and written formats. The short written task that follows requires students to explicate and analyse another text at greater length. Finally, the research essay provides students with the opportunity to undertake sustained philosophical reading and research, culminating in an extended piece of formal writing that examines their capacity to develop a coherent argument in response to an important philosophical question. 

Overview of assessments

Brief Description of Kind and Purpose of Assessment TasksWeightingLearning OutcomesGraduate Attributes

Tutorial oral and associated short written task 

Requires students to demonstrate skills in written and spoken exposition and analysis of a text. 



GA5, GA9

Written analysis task

Requires students to demonstrate understanding of key concepts and debates.


LO1, LO2

GA3, GA4, GA8, GA9

Argumentative/Research Essay

Requires students to critically analyse an important debate in the field and to develop a coherent position.


LO1, LO2, LO3

GA3, GA4, GA5, GA8, GA9

Representative texts and references

Banner, Michael. (2009) Christian Ethics: A Brief History. Malden, MA : Wiley-Blackwell.

Finnis, J. (1991). Moral Absolutes: Tradition, Revision and Truth. Washington: Catholic

University of America Press.

Furrow, Dwight. (2005) Ethics: Key Concepts in Philosophy. London: Continuum.

Hinman, Lawrence M. (2008) Ethics: A Pluralistic Approach to Moral Theory. 4th Ed. Belmont, CA:

Thomson Wadsworth.

Klemke, E.D. and Cahn, S. (1991) The Meaning of Life: A Reader. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

MacIntyre, A.(1990) Three Rival Versions of Moral Enquiry: Encyclopaedia, Genealogy and Tradition.

Notre Dame: University of Notre Dame Press.

Mackie, J.L. (1977) Ethics: Inventing Right and Wrong. New York: Penguin Books.

Miller, A. (2003). An Introduction to Contemporary Metaethics. Cambridge: Polity Press.

Pojman, L. (2006) Who Are We? Theories of Human Nature. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Timmons, M. (ed.) (2011) Conduct and Character: Readings in Moral Theory. 6th Edition.

Belmont, CA: Wadsworth Publishing.

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