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2024/25 Taught Postgraduate Module Catalogue

IDEA5230M Agents and Professional Responsibility

15 creditsClass Size: 30

Module manager: Graham Bex-Priestley

Taught: 1 Jan to 28 Feb View Timetable

Year running 2024/25


IDEA5210MIntro Ethics: Reason Happiness

This module is not approved as an Elective


Ethics is sometimes a matter of assessing situations and options in answer to the question, 'What should I do?'

But it is also sometimes a matter of assessing people and their characters. We might ask whether a candidate for a job is sufficiently honest, impartial, courageous, tactful, sensitive, just or fair-minded to perform the role well. Equally, when someone asks for a pay rise, or faces disciplinary action or criminal prosecution, it makes sense to ask whether they deserve it.

More generally, there is the suggestion that an organisation┬┐s culture can breed virtues of cooperation, transparency and honesty on the one hand, or can breed corruption, secrecy and self-interest on the other. This module seeks to understand what is involved in these kinds of assessments, and how they can be justified.

The module will examine:
- The concepts involved in attributing virtues (honesty, courage, tact, sensitivity, generosity, and the like) and vices (dishonesty, selfishness, cowardice, etc) to people, distinguishing various types of virtue and vice, and how these are appropriately applied;
- The kind of reasoning and motivation that is involved in acting well in response to ethically-relevant considerations of various kinds (eg self-interest, duty, the claims of others);
- The practices of praise, blame, punishment and reward, and various ways in which these practices can be justified - and their relation to (professional) responsibility;
- The application of these practices of 'people assessment' to practical issues such as pay, remuneration and reward, corporate culture, hiring and firing, whistleblowing, punishment and disciplinary practice;
- Responsibility and leadership.

Learning outcomes
On completion of this module, students should be able to:

- Explain the central concepts and challenges involved in agent evaluation.
- Display understanding of the ways in which evaluating agents involves an appeal to standards of moral motivation and reasoning.
- Formulate arguments related to issues of responsibility in the workplace.


The module will cover theories of praise and blame and problems associated with them (eg moral luck), accounts of virtue and vice, and an overview of approaches to 'moral psychology' - that is, to what is involved in responding in the right way to different types of ethically relevant considerations.

Topics may include, for example:

1. Introduction to praise, blame, virtue and vice: This might include discussion of their practical (and not merely theoretical) importance in such areas as criminal punishment, pay and reward, recruitment, whistleblowing, organisational leadership and the like;
2. Moral Psychology: What role is played by such things as inference, rationality, desire and emotion in the proper recognition of ethical considerations? What are the practical and intellectual virtues, and how are they valuable?
3. Commensuration of Competing Considerations: How should agents resolve situations where there are competing considerations favouring different (and incompatible) options? Can there be better and worse ways to weigh such competing considerations, and if so how can these be justified?
4. Desert: Problems of Luck and the challenges facing a consistent view of what counts as a valid excuse, and when praise and blame is justified; Praise and Blame for omissions and negligence (non-actions), and for cases where multiple factors contribute to the outcome;
5. Responsibility and leadership
6. Leadership ethics
7. Application to practical cases: case studies involving virtue, vice and desert in areas such as recruitment, criminal law, whistleblowing, pay and reward; responsibility for accidents or malpractice.

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 words90.00
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: 29/04/2024 16:19:42


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