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Moral Psychology


Admission requirements

  • BA students in Philosophy: propedeuse degree has been obtained.

  • BA students from other departments (including contractstudenten): propedeuse degree has been obtained, and additionally the following philosophy courses is/are required: Ethiek (Ethics) or an equivalent course.


Moral theories make all kinds of implicit assumptions about agents and the world they inhabit. In this course we will investigate several of these assumption and the central concepts they employ. We will investigate what makes an event an action; what makes something into an agent; whether agents are persons; what exactly is motivation and desire; can we hold such beings responsible fort heir actions; how is weakness of the will possible. In addition, we will look into some contemporary psychological research into moral motivation and determine what insights this research gives for moral psychology.

Course objectives

This course aims to give students an understanding of the main theories and concepts of contemporary moral psychology.

Students who successfully complete the course will have:

  • a good understanding of the following concepts: action, motivation, desire, judgment, freedom of the will, weakness of will, identity, agency;

  • insight in the moral-psychological theories of Donald Davidson, Harry Frankfurt, Michael Bratman, as well as the main critiques of their theories;

  • some knowledge of results in contemporary psychological theories about moral motivation.

Students who successfully complete the course will be able to:

  • recognize the psychological, anthropological and action theoretic assumptions in ethical texts;

  • evaluate the plausibility of these assumptions;

  • express these evaluations orally and in writing.


The timetable is available on the BA Wijsbegeerte website
BA Wijsbegeerte 2016-2017 (BA Plus-traject of Standaardtraject), derde jaar.

Mode of instruction

  • Seminar

Class attendance is required.

Course Load

Total course load 10 EC x 28 hours = 280 hours

  • Attending seminars (13 weeks x 3 hrs): 39 hours

  • Study of mandatory literature: 151 hours

  • Written assignments: 64 hours

  • Other assignments and preparation of classes: 26 hours

Assessment method

  • Participation: students cannot miss more than three (3) sessions

  • Short presentation of a critique of the reading to be discussed. This is mandatory for getting a grade. The presentation will not be graded itself, but needs to be sufficient for passing the course.

  • One peer review assignment. This is mandatory for getting a grade. The peer review will not be graded itself, but needs to be sufficient for passing the course.

  • Four (4) written assignments on specific topics, which together will determine the final grade.


The final mark for the course is established by determination of the weighted average of several subtests, i.e. four written assignments (each 25%). A subtest can be graded as unsatisfactory.


The resit consists of one essay of 6000 words on a pre-determined topic. No separate resits will be offered for mid-term tests.The mark will replace all previously earned marks for the four written assignments (subtests). Students can only take the resit if you have satisfied the mandatory non-graded elements of this course (participation; presentation; peer review. Students who have obtained a satisfactory grade for the first examinations cannot take the resit.


Blackboard will be used for:

  • announcements;

  • readings;

  • grades for the assignments.

Reading list

  • Smith, M. (1987). “The humean theory of motivation.” Mind 96 (381): 36-61.

  • –– (1994). The Moral Problem. Oxford, Basil Blackwell, Chapter 3 (parts).

  • Davidson, D. (1963). “Actions, reasons, and causes.” Journal of Philosophy 60: 685-699. (Reprinted as essay 1 in Davidson, D. (1980). Essays on Actions and Events. Oxford, Clarendon Press.)

  • –– (1980).“How is weakness of the will possible?”, Essays on Actions and Events. Oxford, Oxford University Press: 21-42.

  • Frankfurt, H. G. (1969). “Alternate possibilities and moral responsibility.” Journal of Philosophy 66 (23): 829-839.

  • –– (1971). “Freedom of the will and the concept of a person.” Journal of Philosophy 68: 5-20.

  • –– (1978). “The problem of action.” American Philosophical Quarterly. AP 15: 157-162.

  • Kennett, J. (2002). “Autism, empathy and moral agency.” The Philosophical Quarterly 52 (208): 340-357.

  • Joseph Butler (1726), Fifteen Sermons. “ Sermon XI “Upon the love of our neighbour.”

  • Watson, G. (1975). “Free agency.” The Journal of Philosophy 72 (8): 205-220.

  • Roskies, A.L. (2003) “Are ethical judgments intrinsically motivational? Lessons from acquired sociopathy”, Philosophical Psychology, 16: 51-66.

  • Sobel, David, and David Copp. 2001. “Against Direction of Fit Accounts of Belief and Desire”, Analysis, 61(1) 44-53.

As well as some additional texts which will be announced during the course.


Enrolment for courses and exams through uSis is mandatory.
General information about uSis is available in English and Dutch

Students are strongly advised to register in uSis through the activity number which can be found in the timetables for and exams in the column under the heading “uSis-Actnbr”.

Registration Studeren à la carte and Contractonderwijs

Registration Contractonderwijs


Dr. B.J.E. Verbeek


Not applicable.