Ethics: An Introduction (Online)


In this introduction to ethics, the philosophy of morality, we shall examine four important ethical theories (virtue ethics, deontology, expressivism and utilitarianism), applying them to two practical questions: the rights of animals and euthanasia. There will be plenty of opportunity to engage in debate and test your own thinking.

In this introduction to ethics, the philosophy of morality, we shall be considering questions of both practice (is lying wrong? Must we keep our promises?) and theory (what makes an action wrong? Is it only human who worry about morality? How do we apply moral theory to society?). We shall examine four important ethical theories (Aristotle's virtue ethics, Kant's deontology, Hume's expressivism and Mill's utilitarianism) and we shall apply them to two practical questions: the rights of animals and euthanasia. There will be plenty of opportunity to engage in debate and to test your own moral theories.

For information on how the courses work, please click here.

Programme details

The areas you will cover in this course are:

1.       Rules, truths and theories: an introduction to ethical reasoning

·         Moral dilemmas

·         The role of rules

·         Reading academic philosophy

·         Theorising about ethics

·         Right and wrong and knowledge of right and wrong

·         Moral truth

·         Absolute and relative truth

2.       Freedom, knowledge and society: the preconditions of ethical reasoning

·         Freedom, knowledge and responsibility

·         Freedom and intention

·         Freewill and determinism

·         Moral knowledge

·         The moral law and the law of the land

·         The state of nature

·         Justified rebellion

·         Contractarianism

·         Moral and political obedience

3.       Virtue ethics: virtue, values and character

·         What is virtue ethics?

·         The function of human kind

·         Eudaimonia

·         The virtues

·         The nature of the virtues

·         The virtuous act versus the virtuous agent

·         Character and the virtues

·         The metaphysics of virtue ethics

·         The epistemology of virtue ethics

4.       Humean ethics: Non-cognitivism, the passions and moral motivation

·        What is Humean ethics?

·         Why should we adopt Humean ethics?

·         Reason and passion

·         Reason cannot motivate action

·         Moral judgements as expressions of passion not reason

·         Error theory

·         A stable and general perspective

·         The metaphysics of Humean ethics

5.       Deontology: Kant, duty and the moral law

·         What is deontology?

·         Why should we adopt deontology?

·         Kant versus Hume

·         Hypothetical imperatives

·         Categorical imperatives

·         The moral law

·         The formula of universal law

·         The formula of the end in itself

·         Hume versus Kant

·         Happiness and the moral law

6.       Utilitarianism: Mill and the utility calculus

·         Why should we be utilitarians?

·         Consequentialism

·         Interpreting utilitarianism

·         Happiness: quantity and quality

·         Act and rule utilitarianism

·         The collapse of RU into AU

·         Resisting the collapse

·         The epistemology and metaphysics of utilitarianism

7.       Ethics in the news

·         Applying what you have learned in the first six units to two ethical problems that are currently (or have recently been) under public discussion.

8.       Practical ethics: animal rights

·         A deontological view of animal rights

·         Rights and responsibilities

·         Sentience and interests

·         Utilitarianism and speciesism

·         The utilitarian calculus

·         Animal sentience

·         Non-cognitivism: a stable and general perspective

·         Non-cognitivism and animal rights

·         Virtue ethics and animal rights

·         The regulation of animal research in the UK

9.       Practical ethics: euthanasia

·         Thou shalt not kill

·         The doctrine of double effect

·         Acts and omissions

·         Utilitarianism and euthanasia

·         Euthanasia and intentions

·         Euthanasia and regulation

·         Quality of life decisions

·         Euthanasia and moral theory

10.   Making up your mind

·         Points to consider

·         The original position

·         Poll on moral truth and falsehood

We strongly recommend that you try to find a little time each week to engage in the online conversations (at times that are convenient to you) as the forums are an integral, and very rewarding, part of the course and the online learning experience.


Digital Certification

Credit Application Transfer Scheme (CATS) points 

To earn credit (CATS points) for your course you will need to register and pay an additional £10 fee for each course you enrol on. You can do this by ticking the relevant box at the bottom of the enrolment form or when enrolling online. If you do not register when you enrol, you have up until the course start date to register and pay the £10 fee. 

See more information on CATS point

Coursework is an integral part of all online courses and everyone enrolled will be expected to do coursework, but only those who have registered for credit will be awarded CATS points for completing work at the required standard. If you are enrolled on the Certificate of Higher Education, you need to indicate this on the enrolment form but there is no additional registration fee. 


Digital credentials

All students who pass their final assignment, whether registered for credit or not, will be eligible for a digital Certificate of Completion. Upon successful completion, you will receive a link to download a University of Oxford digital certificate. Information on how to access this digital certificate will be emailed to you after the end of the course. The certificate will show your name, the course title and the dates of the course you attended. You will be able to download your certificate or share it on social media if you choose to do so. 

Please note that assignments are not graded but are marked either pass or fail. 


Description Costs
Course Fee £350.00
Take this course for CATS points £10.00


Dr Hossein Dabbagh

Hossein Dabbagh is a Philosophy Tutor at OUDCE. He studied for his PhD at the University of Reading and Oxford. His main interests are ethics, political philosophy and public policy. He is the author of The Moral Epistemology of Intuitionism (Bloomsbury Academic, 2022).

Course aims

This course aims to:

  • introduce students to philosophical ethics;
  • help students understand that and why there is more to ethics than following rules;
  • introduce students to the different philosophical theories of ethics, and the arguments for and against them;
  • enable students to come to and defend their own positions on various ethical issues

Teaching methods

  • Guided reading of texts
  • Group discussions of particular issues
  • Questions to be answered in personal folders
  • Debating from positions given rather than from personal belief (to hone skills of debate)

Learning outcomes

By the end of this course students will be able to explain:

  • the difference between first and second order ethical questions;
  • why moral dilemmas are ineliminable and difficult;
  • how moral questions are applied in a social context;
  • some arguments for and against absolute moral truth;
  • the nature of the four moral theories studied, the arguments for and against them, and how they can be compared and constrasted;
  • their own positions on various issues, and why they hold them.

Assessment methods

You will be set two pieces of work for the course. The first of 500 words is due halfway through your course. This does not count towards your final outcome but preparing for it, and the feedback you are given, will help you prepare for your assessed piece of work of 1,500 words due at the end of the course. The assessed work is marked pass or fail.

English Language Requirements

We do not insist that applicants hold an English language certification, but warn that they may be at a disadvantage if their language skills are not of a comparable level to those qualifications listed on our website. If you are confident in your proficiency, please feel free to enrol. For more information regarding English language requirements please follow this link:


Please use the 'Book' or 'Apply' button on this page. Alternatively, please complete an Enrolment form for short courses | Oxford University Department for Continuing Education

Level and demands

FHEQ level 4, 10 weeks, approx 10 hours per week, therefore a total of about 100 hours.

IT requirements

This course is delivered online; to participate you must to be familiar with using a computer for purposes such as sending email and searching the Internet. You will also need regular access to the Internet and a computer meeting our recommended minimum computer specification.