MA Political Science - Political Theory Pathway (Standard Route) / Course details

Year of entry: 2024

Course unit details:
The Ethics Of Killing

Course unit fact file
Unit code POLI60221
Credit rating 15
Unit level FHEQ level 7 – master's degree or fourth year of an integrated master's degree
Teaching period(s) Semester 1
Available as a free choice unit? Yes


The aim in this course is to introduce students to some of the central questions surrounding the ethics of killing and saving. Is it permissible to kill the innocent in self-defence? Is there a moral difference between killing and letting die? When can civilians be justifiably killed in war? Do intentions matter in deciding on the permissibility of targeting bombings? What is the moral difference between terrorism and justified military action? Is there a moral duty to avoid bringing certain people into existence, for example, severely disabled persons, or persons who will live much shorter lives than normal?

Learning outcomes

On completion of this unit successful students will be able to:

  • Understand the theoretical problems posed by the ethics of killing saving
  • Critically evaluate the major arguments and positions on the topic
  • Understand how the ethics of killing and saving poses special problems for deontological theories
  • Develop their own position on the ethics of killing

Teaching and learning methods

Teaching will take place in weekly two-hour seminars. Students will be assigned reading to do each week, and the seminar will be led by different students each week, each of whom will have prepared a short presentation on the weekly topic.

Assessment methods

Written assignment (inc essay) 100%

Critical summary 30% 750 words

Essay 70% 2250 words




Recommended reading

  • Glover, Jonathan. Causing Death and Saving Lives. Penguin Books, 1977.
  • Kamm, F.M. ‘Nonconsequentialism’, in Hugh LaFollette, ed., The Blackwell Guide to Ethical Theory, pp. 205-26.
  • Thompson, Judith Jarvis. Rights, Restitution, and Risk. Harvard University Press, 1986.
  • Scheffler, Samuel, Consequentialism and its Critics. Oxford University Press, 1988.

Study hours

Scheduled activity hours
Seminars 20
Independent study hours
Independent study 130

Teaching staff

Staff member Role
Stephen De Wijze Unit coordinator
Liam Shields Unit coordinator

Additional notes



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