MSc Philosophy and Public Policy
How should policy-makers employ philosophy? How can public policy balance liberty and equality? What moral questions can and should policy respond to? Policy should also respond to evidence: but how? And which policies should we choose where there is conflicting evidence, or a lack of evidence?
These and many other questions at the intersection of philosophy, policy, science and social science are addressed in the MSc Philosophy and Public Policy, introduced in the video on this page by MSc Coordinator Professor Luc Bovens.
Do find out more below, and email us with your questions about the degree.
The MSc Philosophy and Public Policy provides a foundation in the conceptual and normative questions underlying public policy formulation and prepares students for policy-oriented careers in intergovernmental, governmental and non-governmental organizations as well as for PhD work in philosophy or related disciplines.
It is distinctive in three ways:
It is resolutely interdisciplinary. We take philosophical analysis to be continuous with the scientific study of political, social and economic problems.
It offers a thorough background in moral and political theory, which students learn to apply to issues in public policy.
It provides a foundation in evidence-based policy, which is now widely mandated at all levels of policy-making.
Students have access to a wealth of courses and resources within the Philosophy Department and at LSE that are relevant for the philosophical analysis of public policy, for example:
Research seminars on philosophy and public policy, rational and social choice, scientific evidence and policy-making;
The LSE Internships programme in Public Policy, Social Issues and Public Affairs;
The many policy-related courses and colloquia at LSE.
It is taught at an institution which is a major centre for national and international public policy debates.
The MSc Philosophy and Public Policy will be of interest to students from various backgrounds, for example, from philosophy, history, economics, sociology and political science. We consider applicants with good undergraduate degrees in any discipline, with a considered interest in the area covered by the MSc.
We recruit students from all across the world to assemble a genuinely international group, which enriches the social and intellectual environment that the programme offers. We approach philosophical issues in public policy through the lenses of historical and contemporary developments in ethical theory and political philosophy and we teach students how to use results of the natural and social sciences in evaluating policy. Topics may include various policy areas (for example, health care, development, social security, climate change), approaches to the study of society (rational, social and public choice), central topics in political philosophy (for example, democracy, liberal neutrality, equality, human rights, punishment and just war) and science and policy (for example, the nature of evidence, objectivity, theory choice, facts and values).
The programme prepares you for PhD work in philosophy as well as for policy-oriented careers in governmental, non-governmental or international organisations. We have a very good record of students moving on to good PhD programmes and to high-level jobs with think tanks, in government, or in business. We have an alumni/alumnae network and keep data on employment. You can find out about individual alums from the tab elsewhere on this page. Our data show that our graduates are currently working or studying in the following branches:
Non-government organisations and think tanks: 17 percent
Governmental organisations: 16 percent
PhD programmes: 15 percent
Law school or legal practice: 13 percent
Commercial enterprises: 10 percent
Banking and finance: 9 percent
Consultancy: 8 percent
International organisations: 6 percent
Academic research and teaching: 6 percent
This is a full-year, four-unit degree. Students must take two compulsory courses, Philosophy and Public Policy and either Philosophy, Morals and Politics or Evidence, Objectivity and Policy, one unit of optional courses, one compulsory seminar and a dissertation.
How to apply. To be considered for a place on the MSc, you must apply via Graduate Admissions.
Typical entry requirements. These are listed on the degree's graduate prospectus entry. Follow the links from this index of degrees.
Funding your studies. We consider all applications for the funding for which they are eligible. All applications are considered for the LSE Graduate Support Scheme. Typically, the earlier your application is completed, the better your chances of securing funding. You can also contact the LSE Financial Support Office for advice.
Degree structure. Current degree regulations are available from this index. We contact offer-holders over the summer with any updates.
Course summaries. You can find brief introductions to all Masters-level courses via this index. These courses and summaries are for the current academic year. Future years may differ.
Course materials. Most course materials are delivered via Moodle, but are not available to non-students. Nonetheless, you can log in as a guest and see what you can find. Again, future years may differ.
Videos. All Department videos are available here.
Alumni are invited to join our LinkedIn group. (Click here for a recent export of the LinkedIn data.)
Below are testimonials from former MSc Philosophy and Public Policy students.
Before moving to London, I studied politics and law and practised as a lawyer in Australia for three and a half years. I chose the MSc in Philosophy and Public Policy because I wanted a stronger applied-philosophical grounding in order to move into a research- and policy-oriented career focused on the design and normative evaluation of public policy and regulation. I had a wonderful experience in my MSc year. I chose courses and papers that catered to my diverse interests in the normative issues relevant to climate change, economic policy, democracy and citizenship. My lecturers and professors were closely engaged in my learning and development. And the Department provided a supportive and stimulating environment in which to study. Most importantly, the degree equipped me with an invaluable set of intellectual tools for thinking through the philosophical issues implicated in contemporary policy debates.
I now apply these skills on a daily basis in my role as Policy Analyst and Research Advisor to Professor Nicholas Stern at the LSE’s Grantham Research Institute on Climate Change and the Environment, which I commenced in January 2014 (a few months after completing the MSc). A key part of my role involves assisting Professor Stern with his academic and policy-related work, a great deal of which engages deeply with normative issues in climate change and economic policy. The role also allows me to progress my own research agenda, which developed out of my MSc studies, at the intersection of political theory and climate policy.
I thoroughly enjoyed my PPP studies at the LSE. I came from a different background (Literature), but rather than a hindrance, it made the whole experience even more enriching for me. It's been great to engage in applied philosophical thinking, as it enhanced my analytical skills at the ideal and non-ideal level alike.
I now am a finance trainee for the London Borough of Southwark, and I study public finance and accountancy two days a week. I have been pleasantly surprised that many of the topics discussed in the courses I took at the LSE are relevant and valuable in my current position too. Moreover, it's rewarding to be able to look at policy issues from two different but complementary angles: the qualitative/philosophical one and the quantitative/financial one.
I've currently accept the offer to the graduate training program at London-based Financial PR and Investor Relations firm Abchurch Communications. I mainly work with Asian clients who wish to seek investors in London, and to ensure that their Financial PR, Corporate Communications and Investor Relations are accessible to a wider audience. My long term goal is to bring the public relations expertise I have developed in London back to Asia.
The LSE PPP program benefited me in few ways both generally and specifically as a PR and media professional. First, the exposure I gained from the course is huge. I've come across philosophical-minded classmates from a wide range of professional, academic, and cultural backgrounds, which accelerated the process of forming both my professional and political perspectives. Second, the public policy focus of the course has certainly helped me in understanding public relations issues more thoroughly. Third, through constantly discussing difficult problems with lecturers and very talented classmates from the course, I have sharpened my analytical skills, which I believe is useful in any kind of professional settings. I am very happy to have accepted the offer to the program and I believe the benefits from the course are far greater than guaranteeing a job upon graduation.
Currently, I'm working as an Economic Policy Analyst at the Louisiana Department of Revenue in the United States. My work centers around tax policy, but in particular, I'm working on our governor's tax reform measure. I have been responsible for developing a lot of the policy that's going into the governor's proposal as well as for analytic work. In particular, I've developed the model that allows us to determine revenue impacts from making various changes to the tax code.
The Philosophy and Public Policy program was a great stepping stone for me. I'm convinced that I would not have been hired into the position I'm in without LSE on my resume and I know that the analytical skills that I developed while at the LSE have served me very well in doing that job that I'm doing.
Having graduated from the LSE in September 2012, I joined Oliver Wyman’s London office as a Junior Consultant in January 2013. Prior to that, I completed an internship with the German Foreign Office's Permanent Mission to the OECD in Paris. My degree in Philosophy and Public Policy (PPP) has helped me secure both roles in three distinct ways:
1. LSE’s reputation: Having a degree from the LSE is a door opener and will land you into the recruitment pools of leading companies and institutions.
2. PPP: Coming from an economics background, studying applied philosophy possibly gave me an edge and might have helped me stand out from the usual business crowd.
3. Analytical skill: The programme featured a rigorous analytical training whichhelped me through the application process and still comes in handy when tackling complex problems on the job.
Adding to the above, the philosophy faculty members are very supportive when transitioning into the professional world and will assist their students in any way they can.
Natalia Villalpando Paez
I am currently working in Spectron Desarrollo, a public policy consultancy here in Mexico City. We get the chance to study and analyse both federal and state programs. The job is very fulfilling—it is quite similar to the analysis we learned at LSE but done on Mexican policies.
I arrived at the LSE with a 'traditional' Philosophy background and a hope that the concepts and values I had studied could be usefully applied to explore and perhaps help resolve current public policy challenges. After a year's worth of debates on secessionist ethics, climate change and democratic dilemmas (etc), I felt that the Philosophy and Public Policy MSc had taught me to think about policy options in an orderly, thorough but original manner. These skills were definitely useful during my traineeship at the European Commission, where, amongst other things, I was asked to assess whether certain 'extreme' political parties could be considered to respect democratic values (and if not, what should be done?). In policy areas where detailed legal guidelines and precedents are absent, I realised how important it is to engage in the kind of open-minded thinking encouraged by this MSc.
I found the LSE to be highly respected in European institutions, and the PPP course certainly gave me the public policy credentials to get through the Commission's competitive selection process. The fact that I tailored my degree around my interest in Environmental policy has now allowed me to move on to an Eco-Management traineeship at the European Central Bank.
After finishing my Dissertation in September 2012 I moved to New York to look for work and ended up doing temp work for a small tech company while applying and interviewing for full-time jobs. In January I was very fortunate to get a full time offer from Bain & Company's London office. I'm certain that doing well in my MSc course at the LSE was a door opener that made it possible to get the job with Bain.
Lim Chiang Wee
After completing the Master’s programme in philosophy and public policy, I resumed work at Nanyang Technological University in Singapore, where I am involved in strategic planning and performance management. I am very happy that I did the programme. It has exposed me to new and interesting ideas, concepts and perspectives, and at times, forced me to step out of my comfort zone. The knowledge and experience acquired have been useful not just at work but also in other spheres of interaction. I now have a good base from which to explore further issues of philosophy and public policy on my own. I also feel more confident about moving into a research-oriented line of work in the future.
Jose A. Alfaro Díaz
I am living in Mexico City and working at the "Presidencia" (the Mexican equivalent of the White House) as a senior advisor of the President’s Chief of Office. It’s a demanding and interesting job. I put in long days, but it is very rewarding. The knowledge I gained in the MSc Philosophy and Public Policy is very relevant in my work. I love Mexico City – the sunshine and the vibrant life of the city.
The MSc in Philosophy and Public Policy provides for the exploration of practical social problems with philosophical rigour, allowing students to develop a more ‘first principles’ perspective on various policy issues. I completed my dissertation on coping with scientific dissent in health policy development and I received a great deal of support for this study in the Evidence, Objectivity and Policy elective. Before attending LSE I had little understanding of either health policy or issues related to the sciences, but with the encouragement and extensive expertise offered by the Department I was quickly able to supplement my knowledge. Since completing my MSc I have returned to South Africa, where I am working as part of a research team at the Institute of Social and Economic Research at Rhodes University. We are currently studying the Government’s proposed National Health Insurance plan, which if it comes into effect will be the most substantial reorganisation of health policy in South Africa since the end of apartheid. In this work I am able to further extend the understanding of health policy that I gained during the course of my MSc.
Originally trained in Public Administration, I've tremendously enjoyed studying Philosophy and Public Policy at LSE. The programme has sharpened my analytical thinking, and I’ve gained valuable philosophical insights into complex issues like climate change and healthcare. The most important thing though, following in big part from the philosophical debates with the extraordinary individuals I’ve met during the programme, has been learning how to quickly get towards the higher values (like freedom or welfare) behind superficial disagreements. This helps you understand where others are coming from, and how you might be able to convince them. All this is very useful in my current job, working on welfare state reform as a policy advisor in The Netherlands.
I graduated with my master's in Philosophy & Public Policy in 2011, and decided to move to London to become a writer and journalist. After a stint at The Guardian, working as an investigative researcher, I am now in charge of research on an independent documentary about Iranian students banned from university because of their faith. I also work with vulnerable youth, and give workshops on journalism and creative writing in London schools. Studying Philosophy and Public Policy with Luc Bovens and Alex Voorhoeve helped launch my career by giving my writing and research a depth of analysis honed through philosophical inquiry.
LSE has a distinct magnetism - Immediately after finishing my exams, I began working in a technology consultancy, directly across Aldwych, in Bush House! The company I work for, (Analysys Mason) like many others, has strong links to the LSE and I applied for my role through the LSE consultancy society. I work primarily in the fascinating area of radio frequency spectrum administration and regulation. My background in Philosophy and Public Policy helped me distinguish myself from the other candidates who primarily had engineering and management backgrounds. In my interview, this gave me more scope to discuss broad concepts, which are relevant to the role, such as the merits and legitimacy of collective and individual ownership rights, rather than simply reciting technical knowledge – as I suspect my competing candidates would have done. I wholeheartedly endorse the MSc in PPP to prospective students. Though the course felt overwhelmingly challenging at times, it challenged me to completely rethink the way I approach evaluating public policy and received wisdom in other domains.
Upon completing the MSc in Philosophy and Public Policy, I accepted a consulting analyst position with Accenture in Silicon Valley. The rigorous analytical training of the programme provided an invaluable opportunity to develop my logical reasoning skills and strengthen my communicative ability. Despite having never formally studied philosophy, I was at no disadvantage and my supervisor helped me to form a dissertation topic utilising the strengths of my undergraduate training. Additionally, the breadth of subject matter was continually stimulating, from Kantian ethics to climate change, game theory and the limits of econometric models.
Monica Queiroz Ferreira de Magalhaes
The courses broadened my knowledge of philosophy, particularly of the questions in moral and political philosophy that underlie current public policy debates. The programme mainly concentrates on these underlying philosophical questions rather than on particular policies, which makes its contents much more applicable across different countries and over time than would otherwise be the case. Moreover, at the LSE, there is no shortage of resources or opportunities to learn about any particular policy in detail.
Writing a dissertation allowed me to deepen my understanding of my main area of interest (the ethical aspects of health policy), to find the specific questions that interest me the most, and to be sure that I wanted to go on to doctoral studies. In addition, and very importantly, this degree made me a competitive candidate for doctoral programmes. After working for a year as a journalist and in a think tank, I am now about to start a PhD in Health Policy with a concentration in Ethics at Harvard University, where I hope to continue thinking about the questions I began to focus on during the MSc.
The faculty and my fellow students made my year at LSE as enjoyable as it was educational. The faculty members are extremely approachable, supportive and generous with their time and advice, not only about the coursework and the programme itself but also about further study and career options.
Studying Philosophy at the LSE was as intellectual challenge. I was constantly challenged to underpin opinions with sound arguments, to analyze critically the arguments in a debate, to develop original thoughts and to cross the boundaries among disciplines. The results came fast. My MSc dissertation on Health Care Rationing in Brazil was accepted for publication in the journal of Health, Economics, Policy and Law and I was recently accepted with full funding for the MPhil/PhD program at the Department of Law in LSE, where I will develop some of the conclusions I developed for my MSc dissertation.
Since finishing my program I’ve been working with the Young foundation on a research internship, temporarily with the LSE Public Policy group this past fall as a research assistant and now as a research intern with the UNDP. I'm stationed in Brasilia Brazil and have just finished working with the UNDP’s International Policy Centre for Inclusive Growth. I was one of about 4 interns working with the team on rural and sustainable development.
I've been working on 3 main projects: 1. Institutional frameworks for the Rio +20 conference which will be a side event at the conference on the 19th , 2. A short paper on Social Technologies and Social Technology transfer, and 3. My own research on something of interest, to begin a working paper or more likely due to time, a policy brief on the lack of social inclusion and impacts on indigenous populations with the building of large dams.
I'm so thrilled to be here and it wouldn’t have been possible without the year I spent at LSE and the help I received along the way!
There was much in the content of the MSc that could be directly applied to the work that I do in South Africa. In the carbon sphere, the lectures on environmental policy and on rational choice theory helped in moulding my thinking on these issues; in the HIV-prevention sphere, where I work for a campaign that is essentially an exercise in social engineering, I was given much to think about in our studies of utilitarianism, Kant, Kamm's non-consequentialism, and in the work I did on Peter Singer for my dissertation. But for me this wasn't the best thing about the MSc at all. What I have really had opportunity to apply was the slow and careful approach to examining moral and political issues that we employed in our seminars. I had grown accustomed (in the context of a country where public debate is lively to the extent of being rough) to forming an opinion on an issue quickly, and then spending time vigorously defending it. What really challenged me during my year at the LSE was having to examine all the premises I held which I had never before bothered to think about properly. I cannot claim that my thinking has been 'fixed' - one year is too short a time to do this - but it certainly has set me on a path to being more careful in my thinking, more rigorous in my analysis, slower to pass judgment on the opinions of others, and in general better able to make the case for particular courses of action.
I studied for an the Msc. in Philosophy and Public Policy, graduating in 09. Studying at LSE was a great experience because you get to develop your analytical skills and equally importantly your ability to present your own opinions in a supportive an intelectually stimpulating environment. One part of the LSE experience which really helped prepare me for the outside world was taking up an the option to do an internship organised by the university whilst I was studying. Since leaving LSE I've been working as a civil servant for the UK Government.
I completed the MSc in Philosophy and Public Policy in September 2009 after two years of part-time enrollment. I was working full-time in addition to the program, and although it was demanding, the professors and the department were extremely flexible with me. Even though the hours were pretty consistent from one semester to another, the program started enveloping more and more of my intellectual energy and the idle time of my subconscious. The content was so interesting and challenging that class soon became the time I looked forward to most. In fact, it spurred me to switch careers, from brand strategy consulting to the realm of public policy. Between the intellectual climate of the LSE, the rigour of the program, the inspiration of the professors, and the co-stimulation of the other students, my MSc proved to be one of the foundational experiences in my life. Anyone who is looking for an area of study that will teach them critical thinking, a platform to debate the issues of our day, from climate change to new ways to organize our political economy, and the tools for an expansive lens without the institutionalization that can occur with overly structured programs like MPA's and MBA's should consider the philosophy department at LSE.
Andy was selected for the Presidential Management Fellowship at the U.S. Department of State, with rotations at the U.S. Office of Personnel Management and D.C. Public Schools, Office of the Chancellor. Coincidentally, Andy had highlighted Chancellor Rhee's leadership in his dissertation, which he later presented at the Global Dialogue on Ethical and Effective Governance in Amsterdam. Andy recently joined the nonprofit, nonpartisan Partnership for Public Service as Program Manager (www.ourpublicservice.org).
He writes: 'LSE provided me an unparalleled opportunity to fundamentally change the way I think about public policy. Considering policy creation and execution through the lens of moral philosophy conjures up far more questions than it does answers, and yet it is hard to overstate the intrinsic value of asking such questions. In my research, I considered the moral obligations of public officials, and have applied that knowledge to both public education reform and government transformation. Furthermore, the guidance and support I received from the faculty really validated the Department's stellar reputation.'
Three activities have taken up most of my time since I finished the MSc program in Philosophy and Public Policy: working as a journalist, doing research for the Icelandic Parliament's Special Investigation Commission, and preparing PhD applications. The MSc degree has, I believe, helped me with all these activities. Firstly, the degree gave me a valuable opportunity to develop analytical skills that have helped me in my work as a journalist. Although I had been writing news and analysis for two years before I entered the program, I feel that I am both more competent and confident in my work after I did the degree. Secondly, I don't think I would have been offered the job at the Investigation Commission - where I work with a group that investigates moral matters related to the collapse of the Icelandic banking sector - if I didn't have a master's degree in applied moral philosophy from LSE. Finally, the MSc degree has helped me in the PhD application process, by focusing my philosophical interests and making me able to produce better writing samples and research proposals than I would have been able to write before I entered the program.
I am a PhD student at the Department of Politics and International Relations at the University of Oxford, having been awarded an ESRC studentship to study 'Justice, Governance and Climate Change'. My research involves applying normative political theory to climate change policy and is heavily influenced by my studies at the LSE. My MSc dissertation thesis was titled 'Global Justice and Climate Change' was an essential foundation for my current research. I joined the MSc programme having initially studied economics as an undergraduate. The programme was extremely accommodating for students who had little previous experience of analytical philosophy and allowed me to pursue my specific research interests in climate change policy.
Matt currently serves as a Senior Advisor in the Ontario Ministry of Economic Development and Trade for a program that provides funding to cities and industries facing economic challenges. For two years prior, he worked in the private sector for a consulting firm, Nordicity Group, that specializes in policy, strategy and economic analysis in the cultural and communication industries. On the political side, he managed a campaign in the 2008 Canadian Federal Election.
He writes, "The MSc Philosophy and Public Policy is an ideal program because it applies philosophical concepts to practical policy issues. So I learned how to engage with policy issues such as human rights, multiculturalism and economic development by applying a range of philosophical concepts espoused by Aristotle, Locke, Kant, Mill to the more contemporary Rawls, Nozick, Kymlicka and Sen. These lessons yielded a unique interdisciplinary approach that has strengthened my analytical skills when tackling public policy issues from a public, private, and political perspective."
I was offered a position as a research officer at the LSE's BIOS centre for the study of bioscience, biomedicine, biotechnology and society. My position which is funded by the Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC) is part of a project that will map the socio-political implications of the 'new brain sciences'. My dissertation, which tackled the philosophical aspects of post-war mental health, combined with my background in medicine was definitely instrumental in securing me the offer. First, because it falls under the growing field of 'neuro-ethics' but also health care ethics with an international scope-both of interest to the current project. And second, the interdisciplinary approach I used in my argumentation was precisely what the interviewers were interested in: integrating sociology, applied ethics, morals, and politics to explain an empirical biomedical problem is one of the trademarks of BIOS.
I have been working as a Researcher at the London-based think tank DEMOS for approximately two years now. I work on a variety of topics, including social housing, local government and drugs policy, but I mainly focus on extremism and counter terrorism. The Philosophy and Public Policy course, with its great breadth of topics, provided the perfect underpinning for my current position. As a Researcher, I manage research projects and research teams, fundraise, lead and facilitate seminars and focus groups, and conduct one-to-one interviews. We employ a range of qualitative research methods to analyse our research, and the end product is a pamphlet that gets disseminated to media, academics and policy makers. All our reports can be accessed on our website (www.demos.co.uk). If your goal is to work as a policy researcher or special advisor, I highly recommend the Philosophy and Public Policy course.
Sze Ling Cheng
Sze Ling Cheng is working as a teaching assistant in the Department of Government at the Chinese University of Hong Kong. She will lead the tutorial classes for Fundamentals of Politics and Political Philosophy.
Murray Gregorson has accepted a job as a corporate strategy consultant at a boutique consultancy called Kaiser Associates. This is an American firm with a London office. He writes: 'My LSE degree helped immensely in getting me the first interview, and my philosophical training helped me get through the interview process: they look for analytical ability, critical thinking, rigorous argumentation, inter alia.'
I am currently working in equity research of HSBC CIBM (Corporate, Investment Banking and Markets). This is a global rotational program, so I have the opportunity to rotate in London, Hong Kong or New York. I think that the PPP program has significantly improved my analytical and critical thinking skills, which are essential to equity research. Meanwhile, Luc Bovens and Alex Voorhoeve have given me lots of help and encouragement, without which I would not have gotten through the year so well or have gotten offers from both the banking industry and from other MSc programmes and PhD programmes in the LSE. This is a small but great program, with great lecturers and great classmates.
I have joined Seachange Capital as a partner. Seachange is a New York based non-profit firm that aims to help outstanding non-profits, beginning in youth education and youth development, raise capital to support their growth, through donations from wealthy individuals, foundations, and other organizations. (see www.seachangecap.org/) I am very excited about the opportunity to work in the non-profit sector. I would not have been taken seriously by the sector, nor have been firm in my conviction about joining it, without my year with you at LSE.
David Sneyd has accepted a job working for the Pensions Investment Research Consultancy, which lobbies for proper corporate governance in companies as well as organising shareholder activism. He received the job mainly due to his MSc dissertation which was on shareholder activism and which acted as quite a nice segue into the sector