SOAS University of London

Department of Religions & Philosophies, School of History, Religions & Philosophies

Comparative Ethics

Module Code:
FHEQ Level:
Year of study:
Year 1 or Year 2
Taught in:
Term 2

In contemporary western philosophy ethics has come to be considered as a synonym of moral philosophy, that is, as an institutionalised form of systematic reflection about moral problems, values, norms, rules and judgments, though historically ethics and morality have not been clearly distinguished. Moral and ethical questions are both social questions, asking how should we live, what makes an action right or wrong, which course of action should be taken or must be avoided. In its quest for reliable criteria to discriminate right and wrong actions ethics overlaps with religion and with law. The course will investigate ethical concerns, concepts and procedures from a comparative perspective, focusing on selected examples from different ethical traditions (in Europe, India and China in particular), to explore the vital question, in a globalising world, how different ethical traditions can be brought into a fruitful dialogue with each other. Student will be introduced to key concepts of ethical theory and the relevant literature addressing substantive issues of negotiating in ethical pluralism and methodological problems of comparativism.  

Objectives and learning outcomes of the module

On successful completion of this course a student will be able to:

  • Identify the basic methods and problems in comparative ethics;
  • Understand how ethical problems are related to cultural context.
  • Explain core arguments in comparative ethics across a range of philosophical and religious traditions.
  • Reconstruct, compare, and analyse philosophical arguments or positions across a range of traditions;
  • Analyse and evaluate validity and soundness of these positions;
  • Identify background principles and assumptions of ethical arguments as well as to draw out the consequences of certain philosophical commitments;
  • Formulate arguments concisely and accessibly in in written and verbal form


Two hours lecture per week

Method of assessment

  • One Book Review 800 words, worth 20%
  • One Essay 3,000 words worth 80%

Suggested reading

  • Christians, Clifford & Michael Traber (ed.). Communication Ethics and Universal Values. London: Sage Publications, 1997.
  • Fassin, Didier (ed.). A Companion to Moral Anthropology. Oxford: Wiley Blackwell, 2015.
  • Frankena, William A. Ethics. Second Edition. 1963/1973.
  • Gowans, Christopher W. (ed.). Moral Disagreements: Classic and Contemporary Readings. London: Routledge, 2000.
  • Little, David & Sumner B. Twiss. Comparative Religious Ethics: A New Method. San Francisco: Harper & Row, 1978.
  • Madsen, Richard & Tracy B. Strong (ed.). The Many and the One: Religious and Secular Perspectives on Ethical Pluralism in the Modern World. Princeton: PUP, 2003.
  • Mathewes, Charles, Matthew Puffer, Mark Storslee (ed.). Comparative Religious Ethics. Routledge, 2015.
  • Neusner, Jacob & Bruce Chilton (ed.). The Golden Rule: The Ethics of Reciprocity in World Religions. London: Continuum, 2008.
  • Schweiker, William (ed.). The Blackwell Companion to Religious Ethics. Oxford: Blackwell, 2007.
  • Singer, Peter (ed.). A Companion to Ethics. Oxford:  Blackwell, 1993.
  • Singer, Peter (ed.). Ethics. Oxford: Blackwell, 1994


Important notice regarding changes to programmes and modules