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The Value & Meaning of Life - PHI00052M

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  • Department: Philosophy
  • Module co-ordinator: Dr. Christopher Belshaw
  • Credit value: 20 credits
  • Credit level: M
  • Academic year of delivery: 2018-19

Module will run

Occurrence Teaching cycle
A Spring Term 2018-19

Module aims

Subject Content

  • To explore some key issues concerning value, and the different kinds of value, in particular as this relates to human and non-human life. We will ask, what makes a life worth living/worth starting/worth saving?
  • To consider, especially in connection with human life, notions of well-being, happiness, meaning, and to investigate the relations between these.
  • To provide a research-led approach to understanding and participating in important debates in value and life.

Academic and Graduate Skills

  • To develop students' abilities to apply philosophical tools and techniques, in order to advance understanding of intellectual problems, and to provide a grounding for further independent research.

Module learning outcomes

Subject content
By the end of the module students should be able to display an in-depth and systematic understanding of:

  • issues such as competing accounts of value, moral status, sanctity and quality views of life, asymmetries concerning life and death
  • matters relating to happiness and meaning in human life, including the desirability of the former, the coherence of the latter, the bearing of death, God, and immortality on each.

Academic and graduate skills

  • Students should be able to analyse complex areas of knowledge, manifest critical awareness, synthesise from a variety of sources, evaluate up-to-date research, and show originality in the discussion and appraisal of ideas from the philosophical literature.
  • Students should display the ability to work autonomously and self-critically on an extended essay that goes beyond the framework that is provided in lectures and seminars.

Module content

  • We will first consider some questions about the value of life - what sorts of value different lives might have; what their having this value depends on; whether lives have this value equally; what follows for our dealings with lives, that they have this value. Questions about the sanctity of life, intrinsic value, moral status, will figure here. Also here will be discussion of whether (and how) it might be bad for us that our lives end; whether (and how) it might be good for us that our lives begin.
  • We will go on to consider questions about the meaning of life - whether life might be meaningful, and if so how; what bearing religion, death, beliefs about meaning have on life's meaning; whether meaning might be overrated.
  • The two areas contrast in this way - in the first we consider human, animal and plant life while in the second the focus is very much on human life. But also the two areas are linked - to what extent is a valuable human life a meaningful life?

Students attend relevant UG lectures and seminars (which are research led) to provide a background in the general area of research, while working with the module convenor over the course of the term to define and develop a topic for research and on which they will write their essay.


Task Length % of module mark
N/A 100

Special assessment rules



Task Length % of module mark
N/A 100

Module feedback

Students will receive written or verbal feedback on the essay proposal and reading list within two weeks of submission.

Students will meet with their module tutor in Week 10 to discuss their essay plan.

Students will receive feedback on the 4000-word summative assessment and re-assessment (where appropriate) within four weeks after submission.

Indicative reading

Ronald Dworkin Life's Dominion Knopf 1993 (just some parts of this)

Susan Wolf Meaning in Life and Why it Matters Princeton UP 2012

The information on this page is indicative of the module that is currently on offer. The University is constantly exploring ways to enhance and improve its degree programmes and therefore reserves the right to make variations to the content and method of delivery of modules, and to discontinue modules, if such action is reasonably considered to be necessary by the University. Where appropriate, the University will notify and consult with affected students in advance about any changes that are required in line with the University's policy on the Approval of Modifications to Existing Taught Programmes of Study.

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