Philosophy and Public Policy

This information is for the 2023/24 session.

Teacher responsible

Dr Kieran Oberman


This course is compulsory on the MSc in Philosophy and Public Policy. This course is available on the MSc in Economics and Philosophy, MSc in Public Administration and Government (LSE and Peking University) 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 the following.

  • What is a correct public measure of well-being?
  • 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?
  • How should we distribute the burdens of military service?
  • Should children be given the vote?


10 hours of lectures and 15 hours of seminars in the AT. 10 hours of lectures and 15 hours of seminars in the WT.

This course has a reading week in Week 6 of both AT and WT. 

Formative coursework

Students will be expected to produce 1 essay in the AT and 1 essay in the WT.

Indicative reading

A detailed list of readings will be available on moodle. The following is an indicative sample of readings that may be discussed in the course.

  • 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.
  • Michael Rustin (2016), 'The neoliberal university and its alternatives', Soundings
  • Ronald Dworkin et al (1997) 'Assisted Suicide: The Philosophers' Brief'
  • Carol Kates (2004). 'Reproductive Liberty and Overpopulation' Environmental Ethic
  • Jonathan Wolff (2011), Ethics and Public Policy: A Philosophical Inquiry
  • Joseph Carens (1987), 'Aliens and Citizens: The Case for Open Borders', The Review of Politics
  • Jeff McMahan (2008), 'Torture in Theory and Practice', Public Affairs Quarterly
  • Michael J. Robillard and Bradley J. Strawser (2016), ‘The Moral Exploitation of Soldiers’, Public Affairs Quarterly
  • Annabelle Lever (2014), ‘When the Philosopher Enters the Room’, Philosophy and Public Issues

Additional readings will be available on Moodle.


Essay (50%, 2000 words) in the WT.
Essay (50%, 2000 words) in the ST.

Student performance results

(2019/20 - 2021/22 combined)

Classification % of students
Distinction 51.6
Merit 46.7
Pass 0.8
Fail 0.8

Key facts

Department: Philosophy, Logic and Scientific Method

Total students 2022/23: 42

Average class size 2022/23: 15

Controlled access 2022/23: Yes

Lecture capture used 2022/23: Yes (MT & LT)

Value: One Unit

Guidelines for interpreting course guide information

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.

Personal development skills

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