Skip to navigation | Skip to main content | Skip to footer

University College for Interdisciplinary Learning

Philosophy in Action: Philosophical Approaches to the Big Problems of our Time

Course Unit Code


Course Unit Details

This unit has been designed specifically for online learning and offers a unique interactive experience.


  • Level 2
  • 10 Credits
  • School of Social Sciences


The course will focus on five topics to illustrate the concept of Engaged Philosophy which engages with the pressing social, moral, religious, issues of our time. For example, can people be blamed if they are unconsciously racist? What sorts of philosophical issues are raised by considering the responsibilities that individuals have to act collectively in response to the environmental crisis? Do the needs of children generate a duty to adopt? Is pornography defensible as a form of free speech even if it undermines attempts to combat sexual violence towards women? These five topics will not be fixed from year to year, but will constantly change to reflect the interests of the staff teaching on the module.


The course aims to introduce you to Philosophy by examining the ways in which Philosophy engages with other disciplines and with the important social, moral, religious, and aesthetic issues of our time. As such it will allow you to learn, from familiar standpoints, about the distinctive mode of reasoning employed by philosophers, as well as showing how philosophical analysis can benefit your critical thinking skills in academic work and beyond. The course will help you to think about contemporary social issues in a clear and rigorous way.

Learning Outcomes

On successful completion of the unit, you will be able to:

  • Demonstrate basic knowledge of some core issues in philosophical discussions of the selected topics
  • Understand ways in which philosophical analysis can offer distinctive insights into urgent contemporary issues
  • Understand ways in which reflection on those same issues can inform traditional questions within philosophy
  • Comprehend and explain complex texts and arguments
  • Assess the strength and validity of arguments
  • Connect academic work across disciplines
  • Gain new perspectives on pressing contemporary issues
  • Gain new skills to aid critical thinking, essay writing, public speaking, discursive skills and analytical skills


A drop in the ocean: how can I have a duty to recycle when my failure to do so makes no measurable difference?

This topic examines the problem of inconsequentialism. If one endorses the view that actions are good or bad in virtue of their consequences, then it seems that my failure to recycle has such negligible consequences as to effectively render it harmless. Hence, we seem to have no grounds to see individuals as having a duty to recycle. But if all of the individuals fail to recycle, the consequences will be enormous. How is this apparent duty we thus have as a collective group related to the apparent lack of a duty we have as individuals?

Power, Freedom, and Pornography

Pornography is often defended in liberal democracies on the grounds that producers have a right to free speech. Any harms pornography causes, it is argued, are less severe than the harm of denying people's right to produce it. This topic examines the challenge to this defence from several feminist philosophers of language who argue that pornography can only be understood as the exercise of the right to free speech if we take the claim that pornography is a kind of speech literally. But, they argue, understood as a form of speech, pornography is an oppressive speech act which works to the detriment of women's right to free speech. Thus defenders of the right to free speech should not appeal to it to defend the rights of pornographers.

Unconscious bias and moral responsibility

Unconscious, or implicit, biases are prejudices individuals have without them realising they have them, and have been widely recognized by psychological data. Many organisations require staff to undergo implicit bias training. But some have argued that these biases are not unconscious thoughts but emotional responses. Emotions are commonly thought of as things we have no power to change. But in that case, how can one be held responsible for failing to change these emotional responses? This topic will introduce you to ways in which philosophers of mind have scrutinised these claims in order to challenge the assumption that we cannot be held responsible for our emotional states.

Is There a Duty to Adopt?

Many people who have children by procreative processes are in a position to instead have children by adoption. And there are children waiting for adoption, who would benefit from having them as parents. Given this, is there anything problematic about choosing to create a child, rather than to adopt? Some think there is even that such a choice is morally impermissible, or a neglect of duty. Others think a supposed 'duty to adopt' would demand too much of individuals, or would compromise other goods, or would overlook a special type of value which certain personal projects and decisions have. You will investigate this debate, and reflect on what they think is shown about the ethics of parenthood.

The Misinformation Epidemic

This topic explores the phenomena surrounding how easily falsehood circulates in social media environments. You will see how philosophers working in epistemology (theory of knowledge) have proposed models of epistemic vices people's willingness to believe false information in the face of evidence and will examine suggestions as to what makes these vices particularly prevalent in social media environments, as well as reflecting on how critical thinking skills can be protected against the dangers of these vices.


  1. Contribution to a discussion board on Blackboard for each topic (5 total) (10%)
  2. Video presentation (3 minutes maximum) on one topic (20%)
  3. Handout (250 words maximum) to accompany video presentation (10%)
  4. Essay plan (10%)
  5. Essay (1000 words maximum) (50%)


UCIL units are designed to be accessible to undergraduate students from all disciplines.

UCIL units are credit-bearing and it is not possible to audit UCIL units or take them for additional/extra credits. You must enrol following the standard procedure for your School when adding units outside of your home School.

If you are not sure if you are able to enrol on UCIL units you should contact your School Undergraduate office. You may wish to contact your programme director if your programme does not currently allow you to take a UCIL unit.

You can also contact the UCIL office if you have any questions.

Teaching Staff

Convenor: Professor Graham Stevens, with contributions from a range of staff in Philosophy

GTA provided by Philosophy

Teaching and Learning Methods

Hybrid: fortnightly 45 minute seminar (face-to-face), to support online modules.



Contact us

Connect with us

  • Facebook icon
  • Twitter icon
  • Instagram icon