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Metaethics and Religious Language

Unit code: PHIL30842
Credit Rating: 20
Unit level: Level 3
Teaching period(s): Semester 2
Offered by Philosophy
Available as a free choice unit?: N



Additional Requirements

40 PHIL credits at Level 2

40 PHIL credits at Level 2.


The unit aims to:

• Help students to engage with some of the central problems in metaethics and understand interconnections between questions about ethical and religious language;
• Enhance students' power of critical analysis, reasoning and independent thought, and their ability to bring those powers to bear on important philosophical issues;
• Improve students’ ability to understand, articulate and evaluate distinctions and arguments;
• Familiarise students with some of the most interesting and provocative texts in contemporary work on philosophy of psychology.


Course unit overview

This course unit covers a range of key ideas and theories in modern metaethics and related ideas on religious language.

  • Are moral judgements necessarily connected to the motivations of those who hold them?
  • Do ethical sentences represent ethical facts or should they be interpreted as conventionally expressive of attitudes of approval or disapproval, or to other non-cognitive states?
  • Are ethical utterances systematically in error and, if so, should we seek to eliminate ethical discourse?
  • Can or should claims about what is good or bad be understood as fictions? 

We will also look at comparable questions about religious language, as well as whether ‘God’ is a proper name and, if so, how it refers to God. (Note that second year units Philosophy of Religion and Ethics cover distinct topics and are not pre-requisites for this course).

Teaching and learning methods

One 2-hour lecture and one 1-hour tutorial every week.

Learning outcomes

Students should be able to:

• Show a detailed knowledge and understanding of range of core issues in contemporary metaethics and topics on religious langauge.

• Demonstrate a grasp of complex arguments, distinctions and theories, and express this understanding through presentations and on paper.

• Demonstrate improved transferrable critical and evaluative skills, both verbally and in writing.

Employability skills

  • Analytical skills
  • Group/team working
  • Innovation/creativity
  • Oral communication
  • Problem solving
  • Research
  • Written communication

Assessment methods

  • Written exam - 60%
  • Written assignment (inc essay) - 25%
  • Oral assessment/presentation - 15%

Recommended reading

Alexander Miller Contemporary Metaethics: An Introduction 2nd ed (Polity Press, 2013)
Andrew Fisher and Simon Kirchin Arguing about Metaethics (Routledge, 2006)
Michael Scott Religious Language (Palgrave, 2013)

Feedback methods

The School of Social Sciences (SoSS) is committed to providing timely and appropriate feedback to students on their academic progress and achievement, thereby enabling students to reflect on their progress and plan their academic and skills development effectively. Students are reminded that feedback is necessarily responsive: only when a student has done a certain amount of work and approaches us with it at the appropriate fora is it possible for us to feed back on the student's work. The main forms of feedback on this course are written feedback responses to assessed essays and exam answers.

We also draw your attention to the variety of generic forms of feedback available to you on this as on all SoSS courses. These include: meeting the lecturer/tutor during their office hours; e-mailing questions to the lecturer/tutor; asking questions from the lecturer (before and after lecture); presenting a question on the discussion board on Blackboard; and obtaining feedback from your peers during tutorials.

Study hours

  • Lectures - 20 hours
  • Tutorials - 10 hours
  • Independent study hours - 170 hours

Teaching staff

Michael Scott - Unit coordinator

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