Philosophy of Economics

This information is for the 2015/16 session.

Teacher responsible

Dr Joseph Mazor CONNAUGHT 3.01 and Dr Alexander Voorhoeve LAK 401


This course is available on the MRes in Economics (Track 1), MSc in Economics and Philosophy, MSc in European Studies: Ideas, Ideologies 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 Michaelmas 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; cost-benefit analysis; public goods; externalities; fair prices; paternalism and behavioural economics.  The second term has three parts.

Part A, 'The Value of Economic Models' focuses on questions in the philosophy of science, including, 'Does it matter that economic models have false assumptions?'; and 'What makes for a good (or bad) model?'

Part B, 'Markets and Morals', covers key historical thinkers (including Hume and Marx) on the moral advantages and disadvantages of market institutions. It also covers contemporary debates on the moral limits of markets, focusing especially on the question which goods ought (not) to be for sale.

Part C: 'New Research' focuses on new interdisciplinary research.


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

Formative coursework

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

Indicative reading

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";  C. Sunstein and R. Thaler, “Preferences, Paternalism, and Liberty”;  D. Hausman "The Philosophy of Economics: An Anthology". D. Hume, "A Treatise on Human Nature" (excerpts); A.O. Hirschman, "Rival Interpretations of Market Society: Civilising, Destructive or Feeble?"; K. Marx, "Capital" (excerpts); M. Friedman, “Capitalism and Freedom” (excerpts); D. Satz, "Why Some Things Should Not Be for Sale: The Moral Limits of Markets". Additional readings will be made available on Moodle.


Exam (65%, duration: 2 hours) in the main exam period.
Essay (25%, 2000 words) in the ST.
Presentation (10%) in the LT.

Student performance results

(2011/12 - 2013/14 combined)

Classification % of students
Distinction 23.7
Merit 51.6
Pass 21.5
Fail 3.2

Key facts

Department: Philosophy

Total students 2014/15: 37

Average class size 2014/15: 12

Controlled access 2014/15: No

Lecture capture used 2014/15: Yes (MT & LT)

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

Course survey results

(2011/12 - 2013/14 combined)

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

The scores below are average responses.

Response rate: 88%



Reading list (Q2.1)


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