Philosophy and Public Policy

This information is for the 2016/17 session.

Teacher responsible

Prof Michael Otsuka LAK 3.03

Dr Campbell Brown

Ms Johanna Thoma LAK 4.02 


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 the following. Is torture ever justified? Do prosperous countries have a right to close their borders to immigrants from poor countries? Should pornography be protected by the right to free speech? Can the state legitimately restrict the privacy of individuals in order to promote the public good? Is it wrong to treat animals in ways that cause them to suffer? What is the ideal population size and what policies may the state pursue in order to achieve it? How should we evaluate risks of harm and chances of benefit to people? Should higher education be financed by student loans or general taxation? Should we be free to act as we choose so long as we do not harm others? Is killing morally worse than letting die?


10 hours of lectures and 15 hours of seminars in the MT. 10 hours of lectures and 15 hours of seminars in the LT.

Formative coursework

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

Indicative reading

A detailed list of readings will be available on moodle. The following is an indicative sample of readings that may be discussed in the course.

• Joseph Carens (1987), 'Aliens and Citizens', Review of Politics

• Ronald Dworkin et al (1997) 'Assisted Suicide: The Philosophers' Brief'

• Jennifer Hornsby and Rae Langton (1998), 'Free Speech and Illocution', Legal Theory

• Jeff McMahan (2008), 'Torture in Principle and in Practice', Public Affairs Quarterly

• John Stuart Mill, 'On Liberty'

• Tom Regan (1980), 'Utilitarianism, Vegetarianism, and Animal Rights', Philosophy & Public Affairs

• Peter Singer (2011), Practical Ethics, 3rd ed.

• Jonathan Wolff (2011), Ethics and Public Policy: A Philosophical Inquiry

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

(2012/13 - 2014/15 combined)

Classification % of students
Distinction 16.4
Merit 69
Pass 13.8
Fail 0.9

Key facts

Department: Philosophy

Total students 2015/16: 32

Average class size 2015/16: 11

Controlled access 2015/16: No

Lecture capture used 2015/16: Yes (MT & LT)

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

Course survey results

(2012/13 - 2014/15 combined)

1 = "best" score, 5 = "worst" score

The scores below are average responses.

Response rate: 87%



Reading list (Q2.1)


Materials (Q2.3)


Course satisfied (Q2.4)


Lectures (Q2.5)


Integration (Q2.6)


Contact (Q2.7)


Feedback (Q2.8)


Recommend (Q2.9)