Studying online

There are now 2 possible online modes for units:

Units with modes Online timetabled and Online flexible are available for any student to self-enrol and study online.

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Unit Overview


Normative (or 'first-order') ethics is concerned with questions such as—Which acts are morally wrong? Which states of affairs are morally good? What character traits are virtues? By contrast, metaethics studies evaluates the semantic, epistemological and metaphysical commitments of first-order ethical discourse. Do moral sentences such as 'eating animals is wrong' express propositions that are capable of being true or false? If so, are any such propositions actually true? Does their truth depend upon subjective factors, such as our attitudes or conventions, or are these truths 'stance-independent'? If the latter, how can we come to know these truths? Can moral truths be discovered using empirical methods such as direct observation and inference to the best explanation? Do we know them by way of a prior intuition, instead? Suppose we find that there are no moral truths at all. In that case, how can we make sense of our first-order moral discourse? Is it a mere fiction that some acts are wrong? If so, should we keep the fiction? Or should we just discard our moral vocabulary altogether? These are the central questions addressed in the unit.

6 points
(see Timetable)
Semester 2UWA (Perth)Face to face
Details for undergraduate courses
  • Honours option in Philosophy; Philosophy, Politics and Economics [Bachelor of Arts (Honours)]

Students are able to (1) strengthen generic intellectual skills such as analysing and critically assessing arguments, constructing and expressing arguments of one's own, and constructing and expressing explanations of phenomena; (2) demonstrate their knowledge of the core philosophical problems that arise in connection with the nature and existence of moral facts, the meanings of key terms in our moral vocabulary, and the nature and possibility of moral knowledge; (3) demonstrate their understanding of the most influential contemporary metaethical theories such as moral realism, ethical naturalism, ethical non-naturalism, constructivism, expressivism and nihilism; and (4) critically address a series of fundamental questions regarding the metaphysics and epistemology of moral facts/truths.


Indicative assessments in this unit are as follows: (1) an essay; (2) participation; and (3) test. Further information is available in the unit outline.

To pass this unit, a student must: (a) achieve an overall mark of 50 per cent or higher for the unit; and (b) achieve the requisite requirements(s) or a mark of 50 per cent or greater, whichever is higher and specified in the unit outline, for the participation component.

Student may be offered supplementary assessment in this unit if they meet the eligibility criteria.

Unit Coordinator(s)
Assistant Professor Michael Rubin
Unit rules
sufficient units in the relevant major at the specified standard for entry to the honours specialisation
Contact hours
seminars: 1 x 2-hour seminars per week for 10 weeks
  • The availability of units in Semester 1, 2, etc. was correct at the time of publication but may be subject to change.
  • All students are responsible for identifying when they need assistance to improve their academic learning, research, English language and numeracy skills; seeking out the services and resources available to help them; and applying what they learn. Students are encouraged to register for free online support through GETSmart; to help themselves to the extensive range of resources on UWA's STUDYSmarter website; and to participate in WRITESmart and (ma+hs)Smart drop-ins and workshops.
  • Unit readings, including any essential textbooks, are listed in the unit outline for each unit, one week prior the commencement of study. The unit outline will be available via the LMS and the UWA Handbook one week prior the commencement of study. Reading lists and essential textbooks are subject to change each semester. Information on essential textbooks will also be made available on the Essential Textbooks. This website is updated regularly in the lead up to semester so content may change. It is recommended that students purchase essential textbooks for convenience due to the frequency with which they will be required during the unit. A limited number of textbooks will be made available from the Library in print and will also be made available online wherever possible. Essential textbooks can be purchased from the commercial vendors to secure the best deal. The Student Guild can provide assistance on where to purchase books if required. Books can be purchased second hand at the Guild Secondhand bookshop (second floor, Guild Village), which is located on campus.
  • Contact hours provide an indication of the type and extent of in-class activities this unit may contain. The total amount of student work (including contact hours, assessment time, and self-study) will approximate 150 hours per 6 credit points.