Philosophy and Public Policy

This information is for the 2013/14 session.

Teacher responsible

Dr Joseph Mazor LAK4.06 and Dr Alexander Voorhoeve LAK4.01


This course is compulsory on the MSc in Philosophy and Public Policy. This course is available on the MSc in Economics and Philosophy and MSc in Public Policy and Administration. This course is available as an outside option to students on other programmes where regulations permit.

Course content

The course offers critical reflection on the design and evaluation of public policies from the perspective of moral and political philosophy. To this end, we study a range of theories and concepts that are used in policy evaluation. We often discuss and evaluate them by focusing on specific policy proposals. The course addresses questions such as: 1. What is well-being, how is it measured, and how should it be measured? 2. When, if ever, is paternalism justified? 3. What is the role of personal responsibility in determining people’s claims on public resources? 4. What are the moral limits of markets? 5. When, if ever, is equality in the distribution of goods (such as health, income, or well-being) important? 6. How should we evaluate risks of harm and chances of benefit to people? 7. What are our rights to freedom of expression? 8. What are our rights against being harmed? 9. What are the moral strengths and shortcomings of cost-benefit analysis? 10. When, if ever, are market prices exploitative?


10 hours of lectures, 15 hours 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.

Each lecture will be followed by a 30-minute, optional Q&A session. This session will not cover new material. Instead, interested students will be able to discuss ideas covered in the lecture with the lecturer.

Formative coursework

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

Indicative reading

Wolff, J. (2011) Ethics and Public Policy: A Philosophical Inquiry, Routledge. J. Feinberg. (1971) 'Paternalism', in his 'Harm to Self'. Sunstein, C. and Thaler, R. (2008) Nudge, Yale University Press. National Institute for Clinical Excellence (2008) 'Social Value Judgments'. D. Parfit (2000) 'Equality or Priority?' F.M. Kamm, 'Morality, Mortality Vol I & II' (selections) (1993, 1998) Oxford University Press. Van Parijs, P. (1998) Real Freedom for All: What (If Anything) Can Justify Capitalism? Oxford University Press.

Additional readings will be 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 17.5
Merit 62.7
Pass 18.3
Fail 1.6

Key facts

Department: Philosophy

Total students 2012/13: 33

Average class size 2012/13: 10

Value: One Unit

Guidelines for interpreting course guide information

Personal development skills

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