Philosophy and Public Policy

This information is for the 2015/16 session.

Teacher responsible

Dr Alexander Voorhoeve LAK.401


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 and to harm others in war? 9. Do we have a right to privacy? 10. What are our moral obligations to animals?


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

J. Wolff. (2011) Ethics and Public Policy: A Philosophical Inquiry; J. Feinberg. (1971) 'Paternalism'; J.S. Mill 'On Liberty'; National Institute for Clinical Excellence (2008) 'Social Value Judgments'; D. Parfit (2000) 'Equality or Priority?'; J. McMahan (2009), 'Killing in War'; R. Dworkin et al (1997): 'Assisted Suicide: The Philosophers' Brief'; S. White (2004) 'What's Wrong with Workfare?'; Regan (1980): 'Utilitarianism, Vegetarianism, and Animal Rights'.

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

(2011/12 - 2013/14 combined)

Classification % of students
Distinction 12.5
Merit 72.7
Pass 14.1
Fail 0.8

Key facts

Department: Philosophy

Total students 2014/15: 41

Average class size 2014/15: 14

Controlled access 2014/15: No

Lecture capture used 2014/15: Yes (MT)

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

(2011/12 - 2013/14 combined)

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

The scores below are average responses.

Response rate: 85.3%



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)