Ethics, Politics and Policy

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Course Open to: 
Students on-site
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Course Description: 

Elective course; Social Justice and Human Rights specialization for DPP

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.

The course grade will be determined as follows

  • 20% Seminar presentation
  • 20% One-page outline for final paper
  • 60% Final paper of 2,000-2,500 words

Participation in all classes will be taken into consideration in borderline cases and may result in a raised or lowered final grade by up to 1/3 of a grade. Attendance, preparation, attention to others, and quality of contributions in class throughout the term will be considered.