BASS Sociology and Criminology / Course details

Year of entry: 2024

Course unit details:
Political Morality and Dirty Hands

Course unit fact file
Unit code POLI30272
Credit rating 20
Unit level Level 3
Teaching period(s) Semester 2
Available as a free choice unit? Yes


Topics include:

Moral Conflict/Dilemmas - Political Action - Public/Private Distinction - Dirty Hands - Plural and Conflicting Values - Deontological versus Consequentialist moral theories.

Case studies:

'Dirty Hands' scenarios: 'Ticking Bomb' problem, Targeted Killing
Political Morality: Stafford Cripps - lying in public office


This course investigates the tensions that arise at the interface between morality and politics. It (i) introduces students to deontological and consequentialist thinking on morality, the issue of moral dilemmas and the potential problems this raises for those persons holding political office; (ii) examines the notions of a 'political ethic' and 'dirty hands': whether such notions are coherent and, if so, their necessary and sufficient conditions, scope and effect on political behaviour; (iii) offers some insights into, and the possible resolution of, the tensions that exist between strong and effective political action (realpolitik) and the constraints of morality.

Teaching and learning methods


Assessment methods

1 essay 2250 words (40%)

1 exam (60%)

Feedback methods

Politics staff will provide feedback on written work within 15 working days of submission via Blackboard (if submitted through Turnitin).

Students should be aware that all marks are provisional until confirmed by the external examiner and the final examinations boards in June.

For modules that do not have examination components the marks and feedback for the final assessed component are not subject to the 15 working day rule and will be released with the examination results. This applies to Semester 2 modules only. Semester one modules with no final examination will have their feedback available within the 15 working days.

You will receive feedback on assessed essays in a standard format. This will rate your essay in terms of various aspects of the argument that you have presented your use of sources and the quality of the style and presentation of the essay. If you have any queries about the feedback that you have received you should make an appointment to see your tutor. Tutors and Course Convenors also have a dedicated office hour when you can meet with her/him to discuss course unit specific problems and questions.

On assessments submitted through Turnitin you will receive feedback via Blackboard. This will include suggestions about ways in which you could improve your work in future. You will also receive feedback on non-assessed coursework, whether this is individual or group work. This may be of a more informal kind and may include feedback from peers as well as academic staff

Recommended reading

1. Brecht, B. (2001) The Measures Taken and Other Lehrstucke, Arcade Publishing, New York.
2. Huxley, Aldous. (1994) Grey Eminence, Flamingo, London.
3. Sartre, J.P. (1948) Dirty hands (Les mains sales), trans. K Black, Methuen, London
4. Walzer, M. (1973) 'Political action: the problem of dirty hands' in Philosophy & Public Affairs, 2:2.
5. de Wijze, S. (1994) 'Dirty Hands: Doing wrong to do Right' in South African Journal of Philosophy, 13:1.
6. Coady, C.A.J. (1993), 'Politics and the Problem of Dirty Hands', in Peter Singer (ed.) A Companion to Ethics

Teaching staff

Staff member Role
Stephen De Wijze Unit coordinator

Additional notes

This course is available to all students. 

Length of course: 10 weeks


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