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PHIL511 Philosophy and the Moral Life

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 fundamental and distinctive ethical principles of patient care and medical ethics, such as the dignity of the human person, patient autonomy, and elementary principles of justice. It also considers such issues as informed consent, confidentiality and the disclosure of information, duty of care, and considerations around beginning of life and end of life ethical issues.

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 - identify substantive principles of clinical ethics (GA8);

LO2 - apply substantive principles to individual cases (GA3; GA7; GA8);

LO3 - interpret the relevant ethical values involved in particular issues (GA3);

LO4 - analyse contextual challenges faced by individual health care professionals in implementing systemic approaches to clinical ethics (GA5).  

Graduate attributes

GA3 - apply ethical perspectives in informed decision making

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

GA7 - work both autonomously and collaboratively 

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


Topics chosen from the following areas:

  • patient autonomy, the health professional and the right to treat;
  • informed consent, confidentiality and the disclosure of information;
  • the relationship between patient (or resident of a health care institution) and the professional;
  • the duty not to harm;
  • principle of double effect;
  • the good of the patient as the goal of treatment;
  • balancing costs and benefits;
  • paternalism and the conflict between doing good and respecting autonomy;
  • justice in health care;
  • justice as a character trait of individual practitioners;
  • the right to health care and its entailments;
  • the ethics of the health care professional;
  • professional virtues.

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 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 requires 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 task 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. 




Written analysis task 

Requires students to demonstrate understanding of key concepts and debates.


LO1, LO2

GA3, GA7, GA8

Argumentative/Research Essay

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


LO1, LO2, LO3, LO4

GA3, GA5, GA7, GA8

Representative texts and references

Beauchamp, T.L., et al (eds.) (2007). Contemporary Issues in Bioethics.(7thed). Belmont, California: Wadsworth.

Freeman, J. (2001)Tough Decisions: Cases in Medical Ethics. New York: Oxford University Press.

Furton, E and V. McLoud Dort.(2009) Ethical Principle in Catholic Health Care.National Catholic Bioethics Center.

Gormally, L. (ed.) (2008).The Dependent Elderly: Autonomy, Justice and Quality of Care.

Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Gert, B., Culver, C.M. &Clouser, K.D. (1997).Bioethics: A Return to the Fundamentals.

Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Johnstone, M (2008) Bioethics: A Nursing Perspective. (5th Ed) Sydney: Churchill Livingstone.

Jonsen, A, et al, (2010) Clinical Ethics: A Practical Approach to Ethical Decisions in Clinical Medicine (7th Ed).McGraw-Hill Medical.

McGee, G. (ed.) (1999). Pragmatic Bioethics. Nashville, Tennessee: Vanderbilt University Press.

Ridley, A. (1998). Beginning Bioethics. New York: St. Martin’s Press.

Sugarman, J and D P Sulmasy (eds), (2010). Methods in Medical Ethics, Georgetown University Press.

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