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General Ethics


Course Objectives

The course enables students

  1. to understand key ethical and political philosophy concepts and theories
  2. to formulate and contrast ethical/moral arguments and distinguish them from descriptive arguments
  3. to identify ethical/moral questions underpinning real life controversies and to apply the theoretical tools learnt in the course to understand and reason about them
  4. to become familiar with key ethical debates in the field of consumption, media, and digitalization
  5. to be more reflexive about their own moral/ethical choices

Course Description

When going on holiday with friends, should everyone contribute to the costs equally, or can the better off friends take over some of the costs? When preparing a family lunch, should one aim to cook the most delicious lunch possible, or also take into consideration the impact of the ingredients on the environment? When designing a video recommendation algorithm, is it morally tenable to recommend conspiracy theory content to viewers who expressed a preference for them? Everyday life is beset with choices that involve fundamental ethical questions of right and wrong, fair and unfair at their core. The aim of this course is to enable students to identify the ethical dilemmas that underpin everyday choices and to equip them with analytical tools to understand, analyse and, potentially, resolve them.
The course consists of two connected elements. The philosophical-theoretical element introduces students to key concepts, theories, and debates in the field of ethics and political philosophy, covering consequentialism, deontology, virtue ethics, discourse ethics, contractualism and the capabilities approach. The applied element of the course explains how these concepts and theories can be used in practice to better understand contemporary ethical controversies around specific topics. The applied element of the course focuses on three areas: consumption (ethical/political consumption, climate ethics, and animal rights), media (the ethics of media representations and access) and digital technologies (technology-mediated morality, ethical dilemmas algorithmic design and artificial intelligence).

Learning Methods

  • Lectures
  • Guided reading (with study questions)
  • Debates among students
  • Group project


Attendance is not compulsory, however, in order to obtain the full class participation mark (see below), students need to participate in at least six sessions, excluding the first and the last session.

Evaluation procedures and Grading criteria

  • 10% class participation
  • 30% group project (in English)
  • 60% written final exam (in English)

6 is the threshold for passing the course.


A reader of selected texts will be available on iCorsi. This is an indicative reading list.

  • Barnett, Clive, Philip Cafaro, and Terry Newholm. 2005. "Philosophy and Ethical Consumption." In The Ethical Consumer, edited by Rob Harrison, Terry Newholm and Deirdre Shaw, 11-24. London: Sage.
  • Dubber, Markus D., Frank Pasquale, and Sunit Das, eds. 2020. The Oxford Handbook of Ethics of AI. Oxford: Oxford University Press. (selected chapters)
  • Gardiner, Stephen. 2010. "Ethics and Global Climate Change." In Climate Ethics: Essential Readings, edited by Stephen Gardiner, Simon Caney, Dale Jamieson and Henry Shue, 3-35. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
  • Fraser, Nancy, and Axel Honneth. 2003. Redistribution or Recognition?: A Political - Philosophical Exchange. London: Verso.
  • Nussbaum, M., and A. Sen, eds. 1993. The Quality of Life. New York: Oxford Clarendon Press.
  • O’Neil, Cathy. 2016. Weapons of Math Destruction: How Big Data Increases Inequality and Threatens Democracy. New York: Crown Publishers. (selected parts)
  • Pellandini-Simanyi, Lena. 2014. Consumption Norms and Everyday Ethics. Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan. (selected parts)
  • Singer, Peter, ed. 1991. A Companion to Ethics. Oxford: Basil Blackwell. (selected parts)


Pellandini-Simányi L.

Course director

Conte L.