Philosophy of Economics

This information is for the 2013/14 session.

Teacher responsible

Dr Alexander Voorhoeve and Dr Joseph Mazor


This course is available on the MRes in Economics (Track 1), MSc in Economics and Philosophy, MSc in European Studies: Ideas and Identities, MSc in Philosophy and Public Policy, MSc in Philosophy of Science, MSc in Philosophy of the Social Sciences and MSc in Social Research Methods. This course is available as an outside option to students on other programmes where regulations permit.


Students must have completed Economics A (EC100).

Intermediate microeconomics and/or public economics recommended (but not required) for the material in the lent term of the course.

Course content

The first 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. The second 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.


10 hours of lectures, 13 hours and 30 minutes of seminars and 5 hours of help sessions in the MT. 10 hours of lectures, 15 hours of seminars and 5 hours of help sessions in the LT. 1 hour and 30 minutes of seminars in the ST.

Formative coursework

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

Students will be required to participate in seminar discussions and to write three formative essays: two in the Michaelmas Term, and one in Lent. They will also write one 500 word outline of their summative essay in Lent.

Indicative reading

B. Madeville, "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

(2009/10 - 2011/12 combined)

Classification % of students
Distinction 16.4
Merit 54.8
Pass 26
Fail 2.7

Key facts

Department: Philosophy

Total students 2012/13: 36

Average class size 2012/13: 12

Value: One Unit

Guidelines for interpreting course guide information

Personal development skills

  • Self-management
  • Team working
  • Problem solving
  • Communication
  • Application of numeracy skills
  • Specialist skills