LAWSG141 Law and Ethics

Credit value: 15 credits (7.5 ECTS, 150 learning hours)
Convenor: Sylvie Delacroix
Other Teachers: None
Teaching Delivery: 10 x 2-hour weekly seminars, Term Two
Who may enrol: Any UCL Master’s student
Prerequisites: None
Must not be taken with: None
Qualifying module for: LLM in Jurisprudence and Legal Theory
Introductory video
Practice Assessment: Opportunity for feedback on one optional practice essay
Final Assessment: One 2-hour unseen written examination (100%)
Module Overview
Module summary:

As professionals, we will be faced with all sorts of ethical dilemma: will our choices (and actions) reflect our abstract ethical stands, or will they mostly be shaped by contingent circumstances and environmental factors? How will our increased reliance on artificial intelligence affect our responsibility as professionals?

This course aims to bridge the gap between theory and practice when it comes to grasping the ethical challenges that are likely to shape professional practice.

It is structured around two key themes:

  1. Understanding the factors that contribute to the discrepancy between abstract ethical stands and actual behaviour: insights from moral psychology and social neuroscience
  2. Expertise and ethics within the professions: the challenges (and opportunities) raised by the rise of AI

Aside from the first two seminars, which introduce foundational concepts that are key to the rest of the course (ethical objectivity, deontology, utilitarianism), the rest of the seminars systematically endeavour to bridge the gap between theory and practice.

This endeavour is launched in the third week, thanks to a unique opportunity to experience an ethical dilemma in “The Cave” in UCL (a highly immersive virtual reality environment). Most students emerge from that experience either surprised or shocked by the frequent discrepancy between their abstract ethical stands and actual behaviour. The rest of the course seeks to unpack the factors that contribute to this discrepancy, as well as the challenges likely to be raised by our growing reliance on automated systems within (and without) the professions.

Module syllabus:

  1. The ‘threat of relativism’ – a matter of taste?
  2. Saving lives, stopping trolleys? Consequentialist v. Deontological Approaches
  3. Testing for discrepancies between abstract ethical stands and actual behaviour: experiencing a virtual ethical dilemma in the “Cave”
  4. The relationship between pre-reflective ethical “know-how” and moral action: behavioural insights
  5. Implicit bias, intuitions and habits v. cognitive processes? Insights from behavioural psychology and social neurosciences
  6. Can there be such a thing as expertise in ethics (and if so, is it desirable)?
  7. Computer Systems fit for the Professions?

  8. Professional ethics (I): “Role morality” v. Personal morality?
  9. Professional ethics (II): case studies
  10. General conclusion and questions for revision
Recommended materials:

Module reading lists and other module materials will be provided via online module pages, once students have made their module selections upon enrolment.

Preliminary reading:

  • Blackburn, Being Good: a short introduction to ethics, Oxford University Press, 2001
  • Postema, “Moral responsibility in professional ethics”, in Profits and Professions: contemporary issues in Biomedicine, ethics and society, 1983, pp. 37-63 (available below as a pdf)
  • Susskind and Susskind, The future of the professions, OUP, 2015 (available as an e-book from UCL library)