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The University of Southampton

PAIR3057 Ethics of Public Policy

Module Overview

This module involves the ethical evaluation of public policies. Note that it is not primarily concerned with how public policies are made and implemented, nor with non-ethical assessment of them, such as how effective they are in achieving their aims. These are questions for social scientists, broadly conceived, but the issues explored here are normative, rather than empirical, in nature. For instance, we will ask whether it is the business of the state to ensure that citizens are morally good or healthy. That is, we will consider whether, or how far, the state may act to enforce moral standards or engage in paternalism. We will look both at the ends of policy and also the means employed to those ends; for instance, perhaps it would be impermissible for the state to coerce individuals into making healthier choices, but maybe it could use non-coercive methods – such as ‘nudges’ – to encourage healthy behaviour. The methods employed are those of political theory or moral philosophy, but nor is this simply an applied ethics module. Whereas the ethicist asks (e.g.) whether abortion is morally permissible, the focus on this module is on what public policy should be. Examples of questions we may consider include whether the state should permit abortions, whether it may act to discourage them, whether it should fund them, and whether medical practitioners should be allowed to opt-out of performing them. A liberal-democratic state ought to respect freedom and diversity, yet at the same time needs to address certain policy issues on which there may be deep disagreement between citizens. The aim of this module, therefore, is to uncover the policies that such a state may employ.

Aims and Objectives

Learning Outcomes

Learning Outcomes

Having successfully completed this module you will be able to:

  • Write coherent, normative arguments concerning issues in public policy.


Exact topics may vary from year to year, but indicative examples include: Regulation of unhealthy food/drink; Tobacco, alcohol, and drugs; Marriage; Sex; Abortion; Reproductive technologies; Euthanasia; Organ donation.

Learning and Teaching

Teaching and learning methods

Lectures, seminar discussion, independent reading, coursework writing, and feedback.

Independent Study128
Total study time150



MethodPercentage contribution
Coursework assignment(s)  (2000 words) 50%
Coursework assignment(s)  (2000 words) 50%

Repeat Information

Repeat type: Internal & External

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