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UNCC300 Justice and Change in a Global World , PHIL320 Ethics, Justice and the Good Society

Teaching organisation

This unit involves 150 hours of focused learning, and will be offered in both semester attendance mode, and intensive mode. Different modes are required in order to provide all students with the opportunity to satisfy their Core Curriculum requirements in the context of a diverse range of course structures across the University. Semester attendance mode allows students to develop their understanding and engagements across an extended period, while intensive mode offers a more concentrated experience with completing readings and activities in Canvas during and shortly after extended class meetings.

Unit rationale, description and aim

We live in a time of great social, ethical, and political uncertainty. This unit, which may be taken as part of ACU’s Core Curriculum, responds to this context by leading students into an engagement with a range of contemporary philosophical debates and perspectives on the nature of the good society. It provides them with the knowledge and analytical skills to participate constructively in dialogue regarding matters of fundamental social importance. Students engage in careful examination of some key concepts, theories, and debates concerning issues such as the fair distribution of the burdens and benefits of society, the rights and duties of individuals and communities in local and global contexts, and the understanding and implementation of basic freedoms in areas such as speech, religion, and opportunity. In so doing, the meaning and contours of key ideas such as human dignity, social justice, human solidarity and human value are explored. The unit aims to provide students with an opportunity to develop a scholarly and integrated personal account of the good society that draws directly on contemporary moral, social, and political philosophy, including some key themes in Catholic social thought. 

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.

Learning Outcome NumberLearning Outcome DescriptionRelevant Graduate Capabilities
LO1Describe some of the central problems in social and political philosophy and public ethicsGC1, GC6, GC7, GC8, GC9
LO2Apply ethical principles to problems in social and political philosophy and public ethicsGC2, GC3, GC4, GC5
LO3Critically analyse and evaluate selected debates in the field, and develop logical and consistent positions in relation to themGC1, GC2, GC7, GC8
LO4Access and reference quality resources in order to support argumentsGC3, GC7, GC8, GC9, GC10


Topics will include:

  • Key concepts in social and political philosophy and public ethics
  • Theories of the just and fair society
  • The nature and scope of social equality
  • The ethics of distributive justice
  • Political authority and the good society
  • Public ethics and the Law
  • Work and the good life
  • Charity and mutual obligation in a globalised world.
  • Free speech, toleration, and harm in a diverse society
  • Religion, civil society, and diversity

Learning and teaching strategy and rationale

This unit involves 150 hours of focused learning, and will be offered in a range of delivery modes.

The unit employs a project-based learning approach, combined with some direct instruction to ensure that unfamiliar concepts and theories are understood. The direct instruction, combined with class discussion, are important to ensure that the central philosophical problems explored in the unit are clearly identified for and with students, without which the concepts, theories, and debates will make little sense (LO1). The project-based aspect relates to the first two structured written tasks, culminating in the final research essay. The first two structured written tasks pave the way for students to develop the requisite analytical skills for addressing a philosophical topic in some depth (LO1 and LO2). The research project enables students to further develop their own reasoned response or position on these matters (LO2). The research project also facilitates the development of students' nascent skills in philosophical research, including the location and use of library resources (LO3) and the strengthening of their skills in producing coherent, well-structured and purposeful written and oral English expression (LO4).

Assessment strategy and rationale

The assessment strategy for this introductory unit in philosophy is designed to facilitate broad engagement with what for many students will be a new field of study, while also making possible deeper engagement with one of the unit topics.

The first structured written task serves to examine and consolidate understanding of the selected major philosophical problems under investigation (LO1), and to build skills needed for effective communication in a philosophical context (LO4). Accordingly, students are required to describe the problem/s as such, making appropriate use of the key relevant terminology.

Including but extending beyond understanding of the philosophical problem itself (LO1), the second structured written task is designed to allow students to demonstrate achievements in the analysis of issues arising from the problem under consideration, and key debates about how best to respond to these issues. This task also examines the development of a reasoned response and coherent position on the students' part (LO2). Further, they examine and facilitate nascent skills in accessing suitable philosophical resources (LO3) and the presentation of arguments in dialogue with others (LO4).

The research essay task provides students with the opportunity to undertake further, more focused philosophical reading and research, culminating in an extended piece of writing that develops a coherent central argument. This task not only requires students to work from a sound understanding of the philosophical problem being discussed (LO1), but also to demonstrate beginning skills in philosophical analysis and the development of a coherent position of the issue under investigation (LO2). Research library skills (LO3) and communication skills (LO4) are also examined (and further developed) by this task.

Overview of assessments

Semester attendance mode:

Brief Description of Kind and Purpose of Assessment TasksWeightingLearning Outcomes

Structured written task

(Requires students to demonstrate understanding of key problems and concepts)


LO1, LO5

Collaborative oral presentation with written component

(Requires students to demonstrate critical thinking skills in dialogue with others)


LO1, LO2, LO3, LO4, LO5

Research Essay

(Requires students to critically analyse an important philosophical issue, and argue for a coherent position)


LO1, LO2, LO3, LO4, LO5

Intensive mode:

Brief Description of Kind and Purpose of Assessment TasksWeightingLearning Outcomes

Structured written task

(Requires students to demonstrate an understanding of key aspects of the problem being considered and major relevant associated terms)


LO1, LO5

Structured written task two

(Requires students to develop an argumentative position on a topic discussed in class)


LO1, LO2, LO3, LO4

Research Essay

(Requires students to analyse an important philosophical issue, and argue for a coherent position)


LO1, LO2, LO3, LO4

Representative texts and references

Finnis, J. (1980). Natural Law and Natural Rights. Oxford: Clarendon Press.

Hornsby-Smith, M. (2006). An Introduction to Catholic Social Thought. New York: Cambridge University Press.

Marx, K. (2000). “Economic and Philosophical Manuscripts of 1844” in Karl Marx Selected Writings. (ed). D. McLellan. New York: Oxford University Press.

Mill, J. S. (2010). J. S. Mill: 'On Liberty' and Other Writings. New York: Classic Books.

Rawls, J. (1999). A Theory of Justice. New York: Oxford University Press

Rousseau, J-J. (2003). On the Social Contract. (G.D.H. Cole, trans). New York: Dover.

Sen, A. (1992). Inequality Re-examined. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.

Waldron, J. (2012). The Harm in Hate Speech. Cambridge, MA.: Harvard University Press.

Waldron, J. (2017). One Another’s Equals: The Basis of Human Equality. Cambridge, MA: Belknap Press.

Wolff, J. and De-Shalit. (2007) Disadvantage. New York: Oxford University Press.

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