PP406      Half Unit
Philosophy for Public Policy

This information is for the 2019/20 session.

Teacher responsible

Prof Alexander Voorhoeve and Dr Johanna Thoma


This course is compulsory on the Master of Public Policy. This course is available on the Master of Public Administration. This course is available with permission as an outside option to students on other programmes where regulations permit.

Priority for this course is given to students on the Master of Public Policy. Second priority is given to students of the Master of Public Administration. Any remaining places may be taken by students outside of the School of Public Policy. 

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.

• What is a correct public measure of well-being?

• Should we distribute resources in health care to produce the most well-being overall or should we also aim to limit inequalities?

• Should people be left to bear the consequences of their free choices?

• May the government force you to buy health insurance?

• Is torture ever justified?

• Do prosperous countries have a right to close their borders to immigrants from poor countries?

• Should hate speech be protected by freedom of speech?

• Should the development of new drugs be left to private companies rewarded by patent protection?

• What is the optimal population size and what policies may the state pursue in order to achieve it?

• 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 LT.

Formative coursework

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

Formative assessment will consist of two short essays, of 1500 words each, which will be timed such that students receive feedback prior to the summative assessment indicated below and can incorporate feedback into their summative assessment.

Indicative reading

• D. Hausman, M. McPherson and D. Satz (2017), Economic Analysis, Moral Philosophy, and Public Policy 3rd Edition. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. 

• Michael Sandel (2009) “Justice: What is the right thing to do?” New York: Farrar, Strauss and Giroux.

• Greg Bognar and Iwao Hirose (2014). The Ethics of Health Care Rationing.

• A. Voorhoeve (2018) 'May a Government Mandate More Comprehensive Insurance than People Want for Themselves?' Oxford Studies in Political Philosophy.

• Carol Kates (2004). 'Reproductive Liberty and Overpopulation' Environmental Ethics.

• Martha Nusbaum (2013), “Political Emotions: Why Love Matters for Justice”. Cambridge: Belknap Press.

• Martha Nusbaum (2013), “Creating Capabilities: The Human Development Approach”. Cambridge: Belknap Press.

• Amartya Sen (2009), “The Idea of Justice”. Cambridge: Belknap Press.

• Ronald Dworkin (2013), “Justice for Hedgehogs”. Cambridge: Belknap Press.

• Elizabeth Anderson  (1999) "What is the Point of Equality?," Ethics 109 (1999): 287-337

• Isaiah Berlin (1993) The Hedgehog and the Fox: An Essay on Tolstoy's View of History. Chicago: Ivan R. Dee Publisher.


Exam (67%, duration: 2 hours) in the summer exam period.
Coursework (33%, 2000 words) in the ST.

Key facts

Department: School of Public Policy

Total students 2018/19: Unavailable

Average class size 2018/19: Unavailable

Controlled access 2018/19: No

Value: Half Unit

Guidelines for interpreting course guide information

Personal development skills

  • Self-management
  • Problem solving
  • Application of information skills
  • Communication
  • Specialist skills