Philosophy of Economics

This information is for the 2013/14 session.

Teacher responsible

Dr Alexander Voorhoeve LAK 4.01 and Dr Joseph Mazor


This course is compulsory on the BSc in Philosophy and Economics. This course is available on the BSc in Business Mathematics and Statistics, BSc in Econometrics and Mathematical Economics, BSc in Economics, BSc in Philosophy, Logic and Scientific Method, BSc in Politics and Philosophy and BSc in Statistics with Finance. This course is available as an outside option to students on other programmes where regulations permit and to General Course students.


Students must have completed Economics A (EC100).

Intermediate microeconomics and/or public economics recommended but not required for the Lent Term of the course.

Course content

The first term, 'Welfare Economics', covers several topics in the analysis of public policy, including: Efficiency and its critics; optimal taxation and its critics; equity; public goods vs. merit goods; philosophy of law and economics; fair prices; paternalism; GDP vs. happiness vs. capabilities; and the ethics of the discount rate.

The second term, 'Markets and Morals', covers key historical and contemporary thinkers on the moral advantages and disadvantages of market institutions. Among others, we will cover Bernard Mandeville's thesis that 'Private Vices' lead to 'Publick Benefits'; David Hume's account of how self-interest and sympathy combine to generate our moral code; Adam Smith's analysis of the working of the 'Invisible Hand' and of the vices and virtues of commercial society, and Marx's idea that markets lead to the improper 'commodification' of non-market goods. We will also cover contemporary debates on the moral limits of markets, focusing especially on the question which goods ought (not) to be for sale. We will also spend a few weeks on questions in the philosophy of science, including, 'How can one falsify economic theories?' and 'What can we learn from economic models with false assumptions?'


10 hours of lectures, 10 hours of classes and 5 hours of help sessions in the MT. 10 hours of lectures, 10 hours of classes and 5 hours of help sessions in the LT.

Each lecture will be followed by a non-mandatory 30-minute Q&A for interested students. This 'help session' will not cover new material. Instead, it will allow some discussion with the lecturer of the material just covered in the lecture.

Formative coursework

Students will be expected to produce 2 essays in the MT and 1 essay and 1 exercise in the LT.

Indicative reading

B. Mandeville, "The Fable of the Bees (excerpts); D. Hume, "A Treatise on Human Nature" (excerpts); L. Heilbroner, "The Essential Adam Smith (Reader)"; A.O. Hirschman, "Rival Interpretations of Market Society: Civilising, Destructive or Feeble?"; F. von Hayek, “The Road to Serfdom” (excerpts); M. Friedman, “Capitalism and Freedom” (excerpts); D. Satz, "Why Some Things Should Not Be for Sale: The Moral Limits of Markets"; L. Robbins, "The Nature and Significance of Economic Science"; A. Sen, "Equality of What?"; D. Hausman and M McPherson, "Economic Analysis, Moral Philosophy, and Public Policy"; John Broome, "Discounting the Future". Additional readings will be made available on Moodle.


Exam (67%, duration: 2 hours) in the main exam period.
Essay (33%, 2000 words) in the ST.

Student performance results

(2010/11 - 2012/13 combined)

Classification % of students
First 20.2
2:1 62.2
2:2 16
Third 1.7
Fail 0

Key facts

Department: Philosophy

Total students 2012/13: 63

Average class size 2012/13: 13

Value: One Unit

Guidelines for interpreting course guide information

PDAM skills

  • Self-management
  • Problem solving
  • Communication
  • Specialist skills