Not available in 2017/18
Philosophy, Politics and Economics: Applications

This information is for the 2017/18 session.

Teacher responsible

Dr Alexander Voorhoeve LAK 401


This course is compulsory on the BSc in Philosophy, Politics and Economics. This course is not available as an outside option nor to General Course students.

Available only to fourth-year PPE students.


The course will be available only to 4th-year PPE students. 

Course content

This course will draw on concepts, theories and findings from Philosophy, Politics and Economics to tackle questions faced by decision-makers in public and private institutions. Each week will focus on a case study. Students will be expected to have had some prior exposure to the issues in previous courses--this course will stand out by being more interdisciplinary, in-depth and practical. Questions covered may include:

1. What measure(s) should governments use as the 'currency of distributive justice'? We will look at merits and drawbacks of various 'currencies' (including subjective satisfaction, the capability approach, the 'equivalent incomes' approach, and quality-adjusted life-years) and how they have been used.

2. How should we measure inequality and poverty? We will look at merits and drawbacks of various measures in the light of both (i) the nature of reasons to be concerned with inequality and poverty; and (ii) practical concerns. 

3. How, if at all, should governments aid the disadvantaged 'at home'? We will consider the merits and drawbacks of conditional versus unconditional transfer programmes.

4. Should public services be provided for free 'in kind' or should citizens be granted 'vouchers' which they can 'top up' with their own money?

5. How should priorities be determined in aiding the global poor? We will consider whether efforts should be guided by where they will 'do the most expected good' or whether they ought instead also to be directed to reforming unjust institutions. 

6. What are the moral limits of markets? We will consider what kinds of goods can be traded for money and which goods ought to remain 'market-inalienable'.

7. How can governments permissibly shape a person's choices for his own good? We will consider the justifiability of the use of 'traditional' paternalistic instruments such as taxes and prohibitions and the use of 'nudges'.

8. How should one respond to the 'Democratic Trilemma', i.e., the conflict between three central demands on good democratic procedures: 'robustness to pluralism', 'majoritarianism', and 'collective rationality'? Discussion  will centre on the merits and demerits of the various types of democracy that result from giving up each of these demands.

9. When people disagree, what are the conditions under which a consensus can be achieved and how desirable is it to do so? We will consider some of the epistemic and moral reasons for and against reaching a consensus and consider how some public organisations proceed in the face of disagreement.

10. How can and should collective action problems be resolved? We will consider the nature of the obligations to address collective action problems and the ways in which they may be solved.

11. Why limit immigration? We consider the moral reasons for and against limits on immigration and immigration's political and economic consequences.



10 hours of lectures and 10 hours of classes in the MT. 10 hours of lectures and 10 hours of classes in the LT. 1 hour of lectures in the ST.

The lectures will present theories and findings from the three disciplines relevant to the policy issue being studied in that week; they will also give the outline of a real-world case study. Classes will devote some time to clarifying concepts, theories and findings, but will focus especially on the practical policy question posed by the case study. At least three classes will involve team debates, in which students are assigned to teams which must argue for a particular solution to the dilemma posed by the case study. Two of these debates will be formative, and one summative.

Formative coursework

Students will be expected to produce 2 essays and 2 presentations in the MT and LT.

Students will write at least two 2,000-word formative essays. At least twice, students will be assigned to a debate team, which must together present a case in class for a particular resolution of a policy dilemma. Feedback on these essays and the presentation will help prepare students for the final, summative essay and final, summative presentation.

Indicative reading

D. Hausman and M. McPherson, Economic Analysis, Moral Philosophy and Public Policy. Cambridge University Press, 2006.

M. Fleurbaey and D. Blanchet. Beyond GDP: Measuring Welfare and Assessing Sustainability. Oxford University Press, 2013.

S. Okin, “Poverty, Well-Being, and Gender: What Counts, Who’s Heard?” Philosophy and Public Affairs, 31 (2003): 280-316.

A. Deaton.  "Measuring Poverty in a Growing World". Review of Economics and Statistics8 7 (2005): 1-19.

D. Satz. Why Some Things Should Not Be for Sale. Oxford University Press, 2011.

C. List, “The Logical Space of Democracy”, Philosophy & Public Affairs 39 (2011): 262–297.

E. Ostrom, Governing the commons: the evolution of institutions for collective action. Cambridge University Press, 1990.

A. Oliver (ed.) Behavioural Public Policy. Cambridge University Press, 2013.

L. Bovens, "The Ethics of Nudge." In Preference Change. Theory and Decision Library 42 (2009): 207-219.

J. Carens. The Ethics of Immigration. Oxford University Press, 2013.

An extensive list of required and further readings will be available on Moodle.


Exam (50%, duration: 2 hours) in the main exam period.
Essay (30%, 2000 words) in the ST.
Presentation (20%) in the LT.

The grade for the presentation will normally be the same for all members of the presentation team. This is to incentivise working effectively together. Students will have two summative team presentations first before the formative one, so will have time to learn to work together effectively and get guidance from the class teacher where needed. All other marks are individual.

Key facts

Department: Philosophy

Total students 2016/17: Unavailable

Average class size 2016/17: Unavailable

Capped 2016/17: No

Value: One Unit

Guidelines for interpreting course guide information

PDAM skills

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