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Introducing the Ethics of Childhood

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Can you be harmed by being born? Should seven-year-olds be forced to undergo surgery against their will?

Are values the legitimate business of state education? Should private schools be abolished?

This module will explore a selection of ethical questions concerning children, parents and the state, drawing on insights from developmental psychology and law, as well as philosophy. No previous knowledge of philosophy, psychology or law will be assumed.

Learning and teaching

This course is taught in 10, two-hour sessions, delivered on a weekly basis.

There will be a mixture of lectures and seminars, the precise proportion to be determined by the needs of the students enrolled.

The seminar element may include debate, discussion, group activities, presentations and readings. Additional reading material will be recommended and a reading list will be supplied. If appropriate, other materials such as documentaries may also be included. Course handouts will be provided as appropriate.

The seminars will encourage the development of knowledge and understanding of the ideas and concepts discussed in the course. Intellectual skills will be encouraged through participation in class discussion, reading and coursework.

Coursework and assessment

You will be expected to complete three pieces of assessed work: a question formulation, a 500-word glossary entry, and an essay critique of that argument, and an essay of between 1,300 and 1,500 words.

Advice and support will be provided for all three assignments and you will receive detailed feedback relating to strengths and areas for improvement on both pieces of work.

Reading suggestions

  • Anca Gheaus, Gideon Calder and Jurgen De Wispelaere, eds. (2019). The Routledge Handbook of the Philosophy of Childhood and Children. Routledge Handbooks in Philosophy. London and New York: Routledge.
  • Randall R. Curren, ed. (2007). Philosophy of Education:  An Anthology.  Oxford: Blackwell Publishing.

A full reading list will be provided at the beginning of the course.

Library and computing facilities

As a student on this course you are entitled to join and use the University’s library and computing facilities. Find out more about using these facilities.


Our aim is access for all. We aim to provide a confidential advice and support service for any student with a long term medical condition, disability or specific learning difficulty. We are able to offer one-to-one advice about disability, pre-enrolment visits, liaison with tutors and co-ordinating lecturers, material in alternative formats, arrangements for accessible courses, assessment arrangements, loan equipment and dyslexia screening.