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Instructor Class Description

Time Schedule:

Andrew Light
PB AF 506
Seattle Campus

Ethics and Public Policy

Teaches students to identify moral issues in public life. Special focus on the integration of moral concerns into public discussion in a manner which contributes to good policy and does not polarize issues. Discusses moral and political theory by focusing on contemporary cases and issues.

Class description

This course examines moral and ethical issues underlying public policy practices, decision-making, and policy objectives. Public policy is not only a matter of sound procedures and politically or economically satisfactory or feasible outcomes, but also involves substantive questions of the good, right action, and individual and collective responsibility. The aim of this course is to first provide an overview of ethics and moral philosophy, and then apply these theories to selected topics of public policy involving (1) our possible duties to each other, (2) our possible duties to future generations, and (3) our possible duties to those in other countries. We will take as a focus for these discussions analysis by philosophers of a number of critical issues including social welfare, nuclear waste disposal, international food aid and global environmental justice.

Student learning goals

General method of instruction

Student presentations followed by seminar discussion.

Recommended preparation

Required Texts:

Moral Theory: An Introduction, Mark Timmons Social Welfare & Individual Responsibility, David Schmidtz & Robert Goodin Burying Uncertainty, K. S. Shrader-Frechette One World: The Ethics of Globalization, Peter Singer

Class assignments and grading

Grades will be evaluated on a presentation of one article or book chapter in class during the semester with notes on the chapter distributed to all class participants (25%), a short midterm paper on a topic assigned by the instructor (25%), and a group project (50%) to be presented in class.

Teams for the research projects will be selected at random, most likely four to a group. The projects themselves will have two parts: a class presentation, and some documentation of the presentation. The documentation may be a website, a paper, a poster, a power point presentation, a video, an audio tape or anything else that is appropriate. Conceptually the project will involve identifying an area of interest, framing a problem, characterizing different perspectives on the problem, isolating diverse values that are at play, and identifying those whose interests are at stake. Finally, the project should make some recommendations about how progress might be made in addressing this problem. The subject matter of a project can be on any issue involving an ethical controversy about an issue of local, national or global policy. Part of the challenge of this project is for a group of randomly selected individuals to organize themselves, identify a researchable project, and carry it out successfully. Each group will begin by submitting a one paragraph description of a policy area to be researched by the fourth week of class. Final evaluations will be made by the instructor with consultation provided by both short comments on each presentation by the rest of the class and a one-page self-evaluation of the group by each group member.

Finally, in addition to these requirements each participant will be required to prepare four written questions or commentaries on a specific part of the readings assigned for any given week. These commentaries should raise a substantive issue about some part of the reading and should be no more than one typed double spaced page. You should focus your commentary on as specific an issue as is possible. Each question will be given a grade of E (excellent), P (passing), S (satisfactory), or U (unsatisfactory). The grades for the questions will be averaged and applied to the initial course grade from the papers on the following scale: if the average grade is an E, the initial grade for the class will be raised by two steps (e.g., from C to B-) to produce the final grade for the course; if P, the initial grade for the class will be raised one step (e.g., from D+ to C-); if S, the initial grade for the class will not be changed; if U, the initial grade for the class will be lowered by one step (e.g., from C to C-).

See above.


The information above is intended to be helpful in choosing courses. Because the instructor may further develop his/her plans for this course, its characteristics are subject to change without notice. In most cases, the official course syllabus will be distributed on the first day of class.
Last Update by Andrew Light
Date: 09/17/2005