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Campus offering

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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

In this unit, students will be introduced to a various paradigms for understanding mental illness, and perspectives on the treatment of those suffering from such conditions. If mental illnesses are not simply to be understood as disorders or diseases of the brain, what other perspectives are relevant, and what can this contribute to our understanding of mental health and human flourishing? Issues concerning forensic questions about free will and responsibility are also addressed, as are specific questions concerning respect for the dignity of the mentally ill and their rights in treatment settings.

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 - analyse some of the complexities concerning differing perspectives on mental illness, and the limitations of particular paradigms (GA8);

LO2 - reflect insightfully on problems concerning the clinical treatment of patients suffering from mental illness and issues of inherent human dignity (GA1; GA5);

LO3 - critically assess issues concerning freedom and responsibility, and autonomy and risk, in terms of the mentally ill person (GA8).  

Graduate attributes

GA1 - demonstrate respect for the dignity of each individual and for human diversity

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

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


Topics chosen from the following broad areas:

  • The concept of mental illness, and the problem of its definition:
  • Limitations of the DSM (Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of mental disorders) as a way of categorising mental illness;
  • What makes a condition of the mind a medical illness?;
  • Medical and social understandings of mental illness;
  • Mental illness, free will and responsibility;
  • The dignity of the mentally ill patient in treatment contexts, and the problem of power differentials in the provision of care;
  • The social stigma around mental illness, the problem of discrimination, and its clinical implications;
  • Benefits and limitations of a human rights approach to mental illness;
  • Difficulties around finding a balance between promoting autonomy and preventing harm;
  • Issues around personal identity, self-understanding, and relationships with others in community.

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

GA1, GA5, GA8

Argumentative/Research Essay

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


LO1, LO2, LO3

GA1, GA5, GA8

Representative texts and references

Australian Psychological Association website, "Diagnostic dilemmas: DSM-5 Review and Development".

Black, K., (2005). “Psychiatry and the Medical Model,” in E. Rubin & C. Zorumski, (eds) Adult Psychiatry, 2nd edition. Malden, MA: Blackwell: 3–15.

Bolton, D. & Hill, J., (2005).Mind, Meaning and Mental Disorder: The Nature of Causal Explanation in Psychiatry, 2nd ed. New York: Oxford University Press.

Ghaemi, S. N., (2003). The Concepts of Psychiatry, Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press.

Graham, G., (2010). The Disordered Mind: An Introduction to Philosophy of Mind and Mental Illness, London: Routledge.

Humber, J. (2010). Mental Illness and Public Health Care. Humana Press. Mondimore, Francis Mark (1999). Bipolar Disorder: a Guide for Patients and Families.

Baltimore: John Hopkins University Press

Radden, J. (ed.), (2000). The Nature of Melancholy from Aristotle to Kristeva, New York: Oxford University Press.

Sadler, J.Z., (2004). Values in Psychiatric Diagnosis, New York: Oxford University Press. Thagard, P., (1999). How Scientists Explain Disease, Princeton: Princeton University Press.

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