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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 explores a range of issues around the relationship of healthcare provision to public health research and social programs orientated toward the prevention of illness and the promotion of healthy lifestyles. Also examined are the role of evidence-based medical research; the ethical implications of how medical research priorities are determined; the uses and misuses of medical research; the social determinants of health, quality of life and life-expectancy; and the accessibility of health services across the community, especially for disadvantaged groups.

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 and analyse some basic principles of public health and key issues in dispute (GA8);

LO2 - apply these principles and problems to clinical healthcare contexts (GA3; GA6);

LO3 - evaluate the major schools of thought in the area of public health (GA3; GA8).  

Graduate attributes

GA3 - apply ethical perspectives in informed decision making

GA6 - solve problems in a variety of settings taking local and international perspectives into account

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


Topics chosen from the following broad areas:

  • The nature of public health and its impacts on local healthcare provision;
  • The value and function of public health research and the issue of how priorities in research are determined;
  • Public health and the law;
  • The politics of public health priorities;
  • Problems of individual autonomy in the context of evidence-based public health messages;
  • Public health and the influence of pharmaceutical companies;
  • Strategies for health promotion and prevention of illness in the community, and clinical applications of these strategies;
  • Priorities of public health: Disease prevention, quality of life issues, longevity;
  • Controversies over screening (e.g., prostate, bowel and breast cancer screening);
  • Issues of distributive justice in the provision and allocation of health services, particularly in the case of socially and financially disadvantaged groups;
  • The dual use dilemma: uses and misuses of medical research.

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. 



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

Anand, S., et al (eds). (2006) Public Health, Ethics, and Equity. New York: Oxford University Press. 

Barry, M. (2009) “Screening for Prostate Cancer: The Controversy that Refuses to Die”. New England Journal of Medicine. 360 (13), 1351-1354. 

Bayer, R. Et al (eds) (2006) Public Health Ethics: Theory, Policy, and Practice. New York: Oxford University Press. 

Coughlin, S. (2009) Case Studies in Public Health Ethics. (2nd Ed).American Public Health Association. 

Dawson, A. (2011) Public Health Ethics: Key Concepts and Issues in Policy and Practice. Cambridge University Press. 

Dawson, A and Verweij, M. (eds). (2009) Ethics, Prevention, and Public Health. New York: Oxford University Press. 

Thomas Faunce. (2007) Who Owns our Health: Medical Professionalism, Law and Leadership in the Age of the Market State. Sydney: UNSW Press. 

Gostin, L.O. (ed). (2010) Public Health Law and Ethics: A Reader. (2nd Ed).University of California Press. 

Powers, M and Faden, R. (eds). (2008) Social Justice: The Moral Foundations of Public Health and Health Policy. (2nd Ed). New York: Oxford University Press. 

Peckham, S (ed). (2009) Public Health Ethics and Practice. Bristol: Policy Press.

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