Ethics, Politics and Policy

Course Level: 
Course Open to: 
Students on-site
Remote students
Academic Year: 
US Credits: 
ECTS Credits: 
Course Description: 

Elective course; Social Justice and Human Rights specialization in SPP

This course aims to deepen understanding of how moral values underlie public policy debates, and to enhance students’ ability to interrogate their own assumptions about values, by introducing some basic concepts and methods of moral and political philosophy. We will examine key normative questions in public policy such as: When do legislators, civil servants, and citizens have special duties to others because of their roles, and when should they act on their private moral judgments? What ethical assumptions are made by widelyused methods of policy analysis, and how should we think about these? Can states legitimately control speech? Can states legitimately control borders between citizens and potential immigrants? How can we reasonably respond to moral disagreement and religious diversity in a pluralistic state.

Answering such questions involves making difficult value judgments. Through debate and discussion of a number of moral dilemmas faced by governments and public, we will discover how analytic moral reasoning can help us examine, adjust, and better defend the moral and political frameworks that ground our policy decisions – though it leaves us with seemingly fewer clear, final answers than before we encountered it.

Learning Outcomes: 

At the completion of their work for this course, students will be able to:

  • Understand and explain how choices and debates in public policy are often not just technical in nature, but involve underlying assumptions about morality and values
  • Understand some key concepts from moral and political philosophy that can inform public policy decisions
  • Explain and reconstruct moral views and arguments encountered in the readings and in class, and show how these relate to various policy choices and debates
  • Critically assess moral views and arguments by formulating objections and responses to them
  • Recognize that evaluative assumptions can be (or fail to be) supported by reasons, even while clear and final answers are often elusive.
  1. Short knowledge quizzes (10% of final grade) At the beginning of each class, there will be a short, straightforward, multiple-choice knowledge quiz based on the assigned required readings. There will be 10 knowledge quizzes during the term, starting in week 2. Students will need to bring a device to class (laptop, tablet or smartphone) to complete the knowledge quiz, but otherwise the use of electronic devices in class is strongly discouraged.
    NB For online students an alternative assignment of adding discussion comments online to the required texts will be substituted in case the live knowledge quizzes are impossible.
  2. Seminar presentation (20%) The presentation will rely on and refer to (but not simply summarise) the theoretical readings assigned for the class, and indicate how aspects of the views, theories, and/or arguments could be applied in reasoning about the assigned case. Presentations should be 15 -20 minutes in length.
    NB For online students a written presentation can be substituted for the seminar presentation in case a live presentation is impossible. The grading criteria above will still apply. In this case a message-based discussion will be conducted.
  3. Presentation of a 1-page draft outline plan for the final paper (20%). The final paper should be on an policy ethics question. This assignment is intended help you to work out, logically organize, and concisely communicate the central points you intend to make in your final paper, and to provide an opportunity to discuss and think through potential objections and amendments. 
  4. A final paper of 2,000-2,500 words (50%).