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The Metaphysics of Ethics (PHIL30054)

Undergraduate level 3Points: 12.5On Campus (Parkville)

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Year of offer2019
Subject levelUndergraduate Level 3
Subject codePHIL30054
Semester 2
FeesSubject EFTSL, Level, Discipline & Census Date

Our central question in this subject will be the extent to which our ethical views and theories are related to, or underpinned by, our metaphysical views and theories. In Topic 1, Objects, Events, Persistence & The Ethical Views Influenced by Them, we'll discuss what metaphysics tells us about the nature of objects, events, and persistence over time, and how this impacts various ethical theories we might endorse. In Topic 2, Mereology & Its Influence on Ethics, we'll discuss metaphysical theories of mereology (i.e. part/whole relations) such as how is a corporation (whole) related to its employees (parts), how is a university (whole) related to the students, instructors, buildings, etc. (parts) that compose it? We'll then look at how mereology impacts how we should think about various ethical and political cases. In Topic 3, Causation & Ethics, we'll look at various metaphysical views of causation and how this impacts ethics, particular with regard to moral responsibility.

Intended learning outcomes

On successful completion of this subject, students should be able to:

  • Demonstrate a thorough understanding of the philosophical intersection of ethics and metaphysics, as well as of the metaphysical underpinnings of central ethical views.
  • Critical engagement with contemporary philosophical research concerning the scope of metaphysics and ethics and, in particular, the role metaphysical facts play in the evaluation of ethical theories.
  • Demonstration of high-level skills of communication and collaboration skills, including oral and written presentation of arguments and effective work in small and large groups.
  • Ability to critically evaluate one's own presuppositions and biases concerning ethics and metaphysics.

Generic skills

Students will develop their skills in:

  • reasoning critically,
  • interpreting arguments and
  • writing analytic essays.

Eligibility and requirements





Non-allowed subjects


Recommended background knowledge

At least two philosophical subjects.

Core participation requirements

The University of Melbourne is committed to providing students with reasonable adjustments to assessment and participation under the Disability Standards for Education (2005), and the Assessment and Results Policy (MPF1326). Students are expected to meet the core participation requirements for their course. These can be viewed under Entry and Participation Requirements for the course outlines in the Handbook.

Further details on how to seek academic adjustments can be found on the Student Equity and Disability Support website: http://services.unimelb.edu.au/student-equity/home



  • Mini Paper 1 (500 words) (15%), due in Week 4
  • Mini Paper 2 (500 words) (15%), due in Week 8
  • Mini Paper 3 (500 words) (15%), due in Week 12
  • Final Paper (2,500 words) (55%), due during the examination period

Hurdle requirement: Students must attend a minimum of 75% of tutorials in order to pass this subject. All pieces of written work must be submitted to pass this subject. Regular participation in tutorials is required.

Dates & times

  • Semester 2
    CoordinatorHolly Lawford-Smith
    Mode of deliveryOn Campus — Parkville
    Contact hours35 hours: 2 hour lecture + 1 hour tutorial (weeks 2-12)
    Total time commitment170 hours
    Teaching period29 July 2019 to 27 October 2019
    Last self-enrol date 9 August 2019
    Census date31 August 2019
    Last date to withdraw without fail27 September 2019
    Assessment period ends22 November 2019

    Semester 2 contact information

Time commitment details

170 hours

Further information

  • Texts

    Prescribed texts

    There are no specifically prescribed or recommended texts for this subject.

  • Available to Study Abroad and/or Study Exchange Students

    This subject is available to students studying at the University from eligible overseas institutions on exchange and study abroad. Students are required to satisfy any listed requirements, such as pre- and co-requisites, for enrolment in the subject.

Last updated: 3 April 2019