PP406      Half Unit
Philosophy for Public Policy

This information is for the 2023/24 session.

Teacher responsible

Dr Lewis Ross


This course is compulsory on the Master of Public Policy. This course is available on the Double Master of Public Administration (LSE-Columbia), Double Master of Public Administration (LSE-Sciences Po), Double Master of Public Administration (LSE-University of Toronto), MPA in Data Science for Public Policy and 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 other SPP students. Any remaining places may be taken by students outside of the School of Public Policy. 

Course content

The course reflects on the design and evaluation of public policies from a philosophical perspective. To this end, we study a range of theories and concepts that are used by philosophers in policy evaluation. Each week focuses on specific policy issues of wide social importance. 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 35 hours across Winter Term.  At least one week of this course includes a student debate on the course material.

Formative coursework

Students will have the chance to submit 2 formative essays in the WT. 

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

  • W. Kymlicka (2001). Contemporary Political Philosophy: An Introduction. Oxford University Press.
  • 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 (90%, 3000 words) and class participation (10%) in the ST.

Participation Grade (10%). This will be based on contribution to the class forum, class discussion, and debate participation.

Revised Summative (90%) in the ST (3000 words). This will be a revised version of one of your formative essays; we will provide feedback to help you produce your best work. 

Student performance results

(2019/20 - 2021/22 combined)

Classification % of students
Distinction 14.2
Merit 69.3
Pass 16.1
Fail 0.5

Key facts

Department: School of Public Policy

Total students 2022/23: 123

Average class size 2022/23: 15

Controlled access 2022/23: Yes

Lecture capture used 2022/23: Yes (LT)

Value: Half 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
  • Problem solving
  • Application of information skills
  • Communication
  • Specialist skills