Philosophy of Economics

This information is for the 2017/18 session.

Teacher responsible

Dr Johanna Thoma LAK 4.02

Dr Campbell Brown


This course is compulsory on the BSc in Philosophy and Economics. This course is available on the BSc in Econometrics and Mathematical Economics, BSc in Economics, BSc in Philosophy, Logic and Scientific Method, BSc in Philosophy, Politics and Economics, BSc in Politics and Philosophy and BSc in Statistics with Finance. This course is available as an outside option to students on other programmes where regulations permit and to General Course students.


Students must have completed Economics A (EC100).

Although it is a third-year course, second-year students can take it with permission.

Course content

This course provides a philosophical discussion of the methods and normative commitments of contemporary economics.


The first term will focus on economic methodology and the foundations of utility theory, with an eye to important current debates in economics. We will discuss questions such as: What is utility, and how do economists measure it? Does evidence of widespread `irrationality’ from behavioural economics undermine standard microeconomic theory? Can idealised models teach us anything about real-world phenomena? If yes, how? How should we measure important economic variables, such as inflation? How do we best find out what interventions work in development? Does macroeconomics need microfoundations? Is the economics profession to blame for its failure to predict the financial crisis?


The second term will focus on welfare economics, and the ethical assumptions and implications of economics. We will cover questions such as: Is getting what you want always good for you? Can you be harmed by something if you never know about it? Does it make sense to say that eating pizza gives me more happiness than going to the movies gives you? Is it possible to combine the preferences of individuals into an overall 'social' preference? Does it matter if the well-being of some people is less than that of others? What are the moral limits of markets? How should we resolve collective action problems? What is a fair distribution of the benefits from cooperation? Should there be barriers to international trade?


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

Formative coursework

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

Indicative reading

D. Hausman, The Philosophy of Economics: An Anthology; J. L. Bermudez, Decision Theory and Rationality; J. Cohen and W. Easterly, What Works in Development: Thinking Big and Thinking Small; H. Davies, The Financial Crisis - Who is to Blame? D. Hausman and M. McPherson, Economic Analysis, Moral Philosophy, and Public Policy; D. Gauthier, Morals by Agreement; D. Satz, Why Some Things Should Not Be for Sale.

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.
Class participation (10%).

Student performance results

(2014/15 - 2016/17 combined)

Classification % of students
First 24.5
2:1 63.9
2:2 10.6
Third 0.5
Fail 0.5

Key facts

Department: Philosophy

Total students 2016/17: 92

Average class size 2016/17: 15

Capped 2016/17: No

Lecture capture used 2016/17: Yes (MT & LT)

Value: One Unit

Guidelines for interpreting course guide information

PDAM skills

  • Self-management
  • Problem solving
  • Communication
  • Specialist skills

Course survey results

(2014/15 - 2016/17 combined)

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

The scores below are average responses.

Response rate: 51%



Reading list (Q2.1)


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Lectures (Q2.5)


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