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PHIL103 Ethical Issues

Theories about the status of moral claims (relativism, subjectivism, egoism, utilitarianism, etc.). The rights and wrongs of specific issues (abortion, the environment, pacifism, etc.).

We cannot avoid causing deaths. We can only save some lives. We want to respect rights, but what if doing so requires us to harm some people? We look at a range of theories that attempt to account for right and wrong action, including Utilitarianism, Kantianism, and Virtue Ethics. In the second half we examine some particular, pressing moral issues, such as euthanasia, abortion, animal welfare, the rights of states to punish, free speech, poverty, and drug use. We attempt to understand influential arguments on the issues, to discuss them productively, and to improve them.

Paper title Ethical Issues
Paper code PHIL103
Subject Philosophy
EFTS 0.15
Points 18 points
Teaching period(s) Summer School (On campus)
Semester 2 (On campus)
Domestic Tuition Fees (NZD) $913.95
International Tuition Fees (NZD) $4,073.40

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Schedule C
Arts and Music
This paper is open to all students.

Teaching staff

Paper coordinator: Dr Heather Dyke

Paper Structure

In the first half of the course we survey a range of theories of morality, exploring their implications by way of examples, and assessing their advantages and disadvantages. In the second half of the course we turn to an examination of a range of real and pressing ethical issues. Lectures introduce influential arguments and philosophical resources for evaluating issues. Tutorials emphasise student argument and participation.

Semester Two Assessment:

  • One in-class test 15%
  • One 1,500-word essay 15%
  • Tutorial exercises 10%
  • One 3-hour examination 60%

Please note Summer School assessment will be similar to that of semester two, but not necessarily exactly the same.  More information will be provided in the first class and via Blackboard.

Teaching Arrangements

Summer School: There is a mix between lecture and tutorial-style discussion throughout the week.  Lectures include material not covered in the readings, and all classes feature substantive discussion.  More information as to topics covered will be described in the PHIL103 Summer School Course Outline, distributed via Blackboard and in your first week of classes.

Semester Two:  There will be two 50-minute lectures and one tutorial session per week. Lectures include material not covered in the readings as well as substantive discussion. Tutorials focus on student argument and include exercises meant to illuminate the readings.


Christopher Bennett, What Is This Thing Called Ethics? Second Edition, Routledge.

Supplementary readings will be made available via Blackboard.

Graduate Attributes Emphasised
Global perspective, Interdisciplinary perspective, Lifelong learning, Scholarship, Communication, Critical thinking, Cultural understanding, Ethics, Self-motivation.
View more information about Otago's graduate attributes.
Learning Outcomes
Students who successfully complete the paper can be expected to
  • Know how to construct defensible ethical arguments
  • Identify the main schools of thought in ethics
  • Apply different ethical arguments to a wide range of ethical issues
  • Disagree productively and congenially about sensitive subjects

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Summer School

Teaching method
This paper is taught On Campus
Learning management system


Stream Days Times Weeks
A1 Tuesday 10:00-11:50 2-7
Wednesday 10:00-11:50 2-7
Thursday 10:00-11:50 2-7

Semester 2

Teaching method
This paper is taught On Campus
Learning management system


Stream Days Times Weeks
A1 Tuesday 12:00-12:50 28-34, 36-41
Friday 12:00-12:50 28-34, 36-41


Stream Days Times Weeks
Attend one stream from
A1 Tuesday 14:00-14:50 29-34, 36-41
A2 Tuesday 15:00-15:50 29-34, 36-41
A3 Wednesday 15:00-15:50 29-34, 36-41
A4 Thursday 11:00-11:50 29-34, 36-41
A5 Thursday 13:00-13:50 29-34, 36-41
A6 Thursday 14:00-14:50 29-34, 36-41
A7 Thursday 16:00-16:50 29-34, 36-41
A8 Friday 11:00-11:50 29-34, 36-41
A9 Thursday 10:00-10:50 29-34, 36-41