Morality and Values

This information is for the 2013/14 session.

Teacher responsible

Professor Michael Otsuka


This course is available on the BSc in Philosophy and Economics, BSc in Philosophy, Logic and Scientific Method and BSc in Politics and Philosophy. This course is available as an outside option to students on other programmes where regulations permit and to General Course students.

Course content

The first five weeks of MT will be devoted to the ethics of harming and saving from harm: (i) Why should one save the greater number from harm?; (ii) Should one be solely concerned to help the badly off, or should one also care about inequality?; (iii) Does it make a moral difference that a person is less well off than she could have been?; (iv) Why is it permissible to divert a tram so that it runs over one rather than five, whereas it is impermissible to kill a single individual in order to redistribute his vital organs to save the lives of five? (a.k.a. 'the trolley problem'); (v) Is there a morally significant difference between the intentional and the merely foreseen killing of someone? (a.k.a. 'double effect').

In weeks 6-10 of MT, we will cover the following more theoretical topics in moral philosophy: (vi) Kantian moral theory; (vii) Moral luck; (viii) Virtue ethics; (ix) Concern and moral worth; (x) Moral realism/anti-realism.

Lent Term will be devoted to the topic of justice. What does justice require? Does it demand the redistribution of income from rich to poor in order to create a more egalitarian society? We'll discuss the answers to this question that John Rawls and Robert Nozick have provided. Rawls argues that such taxation is just, since it would be endorsed under fair conditions in which people are deprived of knowledge of whether they happen to be rich or poor, talented or unskilled. Nozick argues that redistributive taxation is unjust because on a par with forced labour. In addition, we'll consider their answers to the following questions: When it is unjust to constrain the liberties of some in order to prevent harm to others? What sort of equality of opportunity for jobs and university places does justice require? Are people entitled to compensation for historical injustices? What are the just conditions of acquisition of unowned natural resources? In answering the last question, we will also draw on the writings of John Locke.


10 hours of lectures and 9 hours of classes in the MT. 10 hours of lectures and 10 hours of classes in the LT. 1 hour of classes in the ST.

Formative coursework

Students will be required to participate in class discussions and to write two essays per term.

Indicative reading

John Taurek, ‘Should the Numbers Count?’ Philosophy & Public Affairs, 6 (1977) 293-316;
Derek Parfit, ‘Equality and Priority’, Ratio, 10 (1997): 202-221;
Derek Parfit, Reasons and Persons, Oxford University Press;
Mark Timmons, Moral Theory, 2nd ed., Rowman & Littlefield;
Immanuel Kant, Groundwork of the Metaphysics of Morals;
John Rawls, A Theory of Justice, revised edition, Harvard University Press;
Robert Nozick, Anarchy, State and Utopia, Blackwell;
John Locke, Second Treatise of Government.


Exam (100%, duration: 3 hours) in the main exam period.

Student performance results

(2010/11 - 2012/13 combined)

Classification % of students
First 14
2:1 63.2
2:2 18.4
Third 2.9
Fail 1.5

Key facts

Department: Philosophy

Total students 2012/13: 41

Average class size 2012/13: 10

Value: One Unit

Guidelines for interpreting course guide information

PDAM skills

  • Communication