PP406      Half Unit
Philosophy for Public Policy

This information is for the 2021/22 session.

Teacher responsible

Dr Lewis Ross, Prof Michael Otsuka and Dr Johanna Thoma


This course is compulsory on the Double Master of Public Administration (LSE-University of Toronto) and 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 good 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?
  • What is a fair system of taxation?
  • How should we deal with unknown risks posed by new technologies?
  • What explains inaction on the climate emergency?
  • 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?
  • Does it make sense to hold governments or corporations morally responsible over and above their individual members?


This course is delivered through a combination of lectures and seminars totalling a minimum of 30 hours across Lent Term.  This year teaching will be delivered through a combination of online lectures with seminars taking place in person where possible and where conditions allow. At least one week of this course includes a student debate on the course material.

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.  Note that at least one of these must be submitted since a reworked version (with a response to the feedback received) is an essential part of the summative work for the course.  In this sense, completing at least one formative essay is a threshold for completing the course. 

Indicative reading

  • D. Hausman, M. McPherson and D. Satz (2017), Economic Analysis, Moral Philosophy, and Public Policy 3rd Edition. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
  • G. Bognar and I. Hirose (2014). The Ethics of Health Care Rationing. London Routledge
  • Voorhoeve (2019) 'Why Health-Related Inequalities Matter and Which Ones Do'. In Global Health Priority-Setting: Beyond Cost-Effectiveness. Norheim, Emanuel, and Millum (eds.)  Oxford University Press (2019): 145-161.
  • A. Sen (2009), Development as Freedom. Oxford University Press.
  • S. Alkire (2016) “The Capability Approach and Well-Being Measurement for Public Policy.” In Oxford Handbook on Well-being and Public Policy, Adler and Fleurbaey (eds.), chap. 21.
  • E. Anderson (1999) "What is the Point of Equality?" Ethics 109 (1999): 287-337.


Essay (33%, 1500 words) and essay (67%, 2000 words) in the ST.

Summative essay 1 (33% of final grade), which is a 1,500 word essay on other material from the course due early in ST.

Summative essay 2 (67% of final grade) which is a 2,000 word rewritten version of one of the two formative essays, plus a 500 word response explaining how the essay has been revised in light of the criticism, due the middle of ST.

Course selection videos

Some departments have produced short videos to introduce their courses. Please refer to the course selection videos index page for further information.

Important information in response to COVID-19

Please note that during 2021/22 academic year some variation to teaching and learning activities may be required to respond to changes in public health advice and/or to account for the differing needs of students in attendance on campus and those who might be studying online. For example, this may involve changes to the mode of teaching delivery and/or the format or weighting of assessments. Changes will only be made if required and students will be notified about any changes to teaching or assessment plans at the earliest opportunity.

Key facts

Department: School of Public Policy

Total students 2020/21: 68

Average class size 2020/21: 14

Controlled access 2020/21: Yes

Value: Half Unit

Guidelines for interpreting course guide information

Personal development skills

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