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2024/25 Taught Postgraduate Module Catalogue

IDEA5250M Professional Issues 3: Consent and Contracts

15 creditsClass Size: 30

Module manager: Dr Robbie Arrell

Taught: 1 Apr to 30 June View Timetable

Year running 2024/25


IDEA5210MIntro Ethics: Reason Happiness
IDEA5220MProfessional Issues 1
IDEA5230MAgents & Profes Responsibility

This module is not approved as an Elective


This module explores the role of consent and contract in creating and explaining obligations or rights. It is often thought that the consent of a competent person authorises third parties to act in the way(s) to which the competent person has consented, giving others rights over a person and imposing an obligation on a person to act in the way to which they have consented; eg employment contracts.

Furthermore, others argue that only consent can legitimate the exercise of state power and the application of law. This brings into question whether private individuals and corporations have an obligation to obey the law and comply with the state institutions that regulate so much of our lives and restrict many of our actions.

Yet others argue that our obligation to obey the state is based not on consent but on a social or implicit contract conditional on the provision of benefits. Furthermore, some believe that this model can be extended to explain the legitimacy and obligations of business and possibly other institutions such as the police or armed forces - the 'licence to operate' view.

This module explores these claims and beliefs, looking at:
- whether there are moral limits on what a person may consent or agree to
- whether different types of consent or agreements are binding in different ways
- what competence is, and whether more than competence is required to legitimate consent and agreements
- exploitation
- whether there is a specific obligation to obey the law, and the role of consent in creating that obligation
- social or implied contract models of legitimacy
- justifications for breaking agreements or the law.

Learning outcomes
On completion of this module, students should have an ability to:
- understand and critically evaluate the role and limits of consent and contract in explaining obligations and rights;
- understand and critically evaluate different accounts of what valid consent or contract consists in;
- apply this understanding to specific problems in applied or professional ethics where contract or consent is taken to be of normative significance.


Topics may include, for example:

- Consent
> Consent as the ground of obligations: the difference between voluntary and non-voluntary obligations (grounds and scope of the distinction);
> Types of consent: actual / hypothetical / presumed / tacit, and differences in the moral/normative status and practical consequences of these types of consent;
> Limits on consent: things to which it is (or may be) illegitimate to consent (such as slavery, killing, mutilation, prostitution, etc).

- Valid consent
> Properly Informed Consent: why morally legitimate/valid consent needs to be informed; how much information is sufficient; duties to provide information vs duty to seek information (responsibility of third parties vs responsibility of the individual with respect to the information requirement on consent)
> Implications for different professions, such as business
> Free consent: the requirement that consent be unforced or uncoerced, and what constitutes illegitimate force or coercion.

- Competence to Consent:
> different accounts of the grounds of competence; difference between respect for the capacity for competent consent and respect for decisions that are actually competent, and the practical implications of the different accounts; difference between legal and moral accounts of competence;
> competence and responsibility for the costs of consensual agreement; proxy consent (the conditions under which one person may consent for another).

- 'Licence to Operate': assessment of the view that businesses and maybe other types of organisations (such as the police or armed forces) operate under an implied contract with society that sets limits to their activity and also specifies the duties that society has towards the said organisations.

- Exploitation:
> different accounts of what exploitation consists in and what is wrong with exploitation; whether consent is necessary for exploitation; how or whether exploitation affects the moral status or binding nature of consensual agreements;
> practical implications in relation to, for example, employment or financial agreements, as to what constitutes an exploitative agreement.

- Promise Keeping and Contracts:
> different accounts of the nature of the promissory obligation; difference between promises and contracts;
> conditions under which promissory obligations can lapse;
> limits on what one may promise to do.

- Practical issues to include, for example:
> what one can fairly consent to; the nature of fair contracts in different areas (eg IT versus the automobile or airline industry);
> whether informed consent in the workplace suffices.

Teaching methods

Delivery typeNumberLength hoursStudent hours
On-line Learning82.0016.00
Independent online learning hours34.00
Private study hours100.00
Total Contact hours16.00
Total hours (100hr per 10 credits)150.00

Private study

On-Line Learning: online tutor-led discussion.
Independent Online Learning: working through exercises online

Private Study Time:
Students be assigned set readings, and will be given teaching materials to work through at their own pace. These materials will set the readings in context, at certain points provide prompts for carefully structured online discussions, which will be supported by tutors.

Opportunities for Formative Feedback

Essay plans (400 words).

Tutors will be involved in students' discussions to monitor their contributions, and provide clarification or answer questions where necessary. Access to teaching materials will also be logged through the VLE, which will give some indication of students' progress in independent learning.

Contribution to online discussions will be assessed (on participation rather than content) to encourage regular, active participation.

There will also be an online personal tutoring system to review progress on completed modules and identify any areas where further support is needed.

Methods of assessment

Assessment typeNotes% of formal assessment
Essay1 x 3,000 word90.00
Group DiscussionParticipation in online group discussions10.00
Total percentage (Assessment Coursework)100.00

Normally resits will be assessed by the same methodology as the first attempt, unless otherwise stated

Reading list

The reading list is available from the Library website

Last updated: 07/06/2024 15:34:54


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