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Political Philosophy, Paternalism, and the Welfare State

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 A Teaching Topic in Ethics and Accountability 

Political Philosophy, Paternalism, and the Welfare State

Those who seek to govern well are continually and inescapably confronted in their political, professional, and personal decisions with questions of value. As such, the question of 1) what is the "right thing" to do and 2) how can political actors go about doing the "right thing" had been the question that have occupied the minds of political theorists since the dawn of civilizations. This topic will explore moral and ethical issues in public policy decision-making and practices by looking into ancient and contemporary political theories on what would truly constitute "good" and "right" governance for numerous, advanced welfare states of the 21st century.

Topic Learning Outcome: Students will be able to analyze legitimizing procedures for policy decision-making as well as substantive criteria for judging individual and collective conduct and actions. Moreover, students will be encouraged to develop and exercise critical analysis of methods and goals, arguments, and deliberations in policy contexts.

Core Concepts associated with this Topic:

Recommended Reading

University of Toronto: PPG 2022 (Moral Foundations of Public Policy)

John Rawls, “Justice as Fairness: Political not Metaphysical,” Philosophy and Public Affairs, 14 (1985).

Joseph Heath, “Three Normative Models of the Welfare State” Public Reason, 3 (2011).

Joseph Stiglitz, The Economic Role of the State (Oxford: Basil Blackwell, 1989).

Cass Sunstein and Richard Thaler, “Libertarian Paternalism is not an Oxymoron,” University of Chicago Law Review, 70 (2003).

Bruno Frey and Alois Stutzer, “Mispredicting Utility and the Political Process,” in Edward J. McCafferey and Joel Slemrod, Behavioral Public Finance (New York: Russell Sage, 2006).

John Stuart Mill, On Liberty (Indianapolis: Hackett, 1978).

Harvard University: DPI-201C (The Responsibilities of Public Action)

William Shaw, “The Consequentialist Perspective,” in Contemporary Debates in Moral Theory, ed. James Dreier (2006), pp. 5-20.

John Rawls, A Theory of Justice: Revised Edition (1999 [1st ed. 1971]), pp. 19-30 (§§ 5-6) & 52-69 (§§ 11- 13).

T. M. Scanlon, What We Owe to Each Other (1998), pp. 147-149, 151-158, 189-191, 229-241, 389-390, 393-394, 396-398.

Dennis F. Thompson, “Paternalistic Power,” in Political Ethics and Public Office (1987), pp. 148-177.

Tamar Schapiro, “What Is A Child?” Ethics 109:4 (1999), pp. 715-738.

Daniel Hausman and Brynn Welch, “Debate: To Nudge or Not to Nudge,” Journal of Political Philosophy 18:1 (2010), pp. 123-136.

Robert Nozick, Anarchy, State, and Utopia (1974), pp. 149-165, 167-189, 344-346.

John Rawls, Justice as Fairness: A Restatement (2001), pp. 50-55 (§§ 14-15), 157-158 (§ 48).

Liam Murphy and Thomas Nagel, The Myth of Ownership (2002), pp. 3-11, 103-109, 121-125, 142-148, 191, 199-202, 205-206.

University of Maryland: PUAF 650 (Moral Dimensions of Public Policy)

Jonathan Glover. Humanity. Yale University Press, 1999. 1-13.

Hugh LaFollette, ed. Ethics in Practice: An Anthology. Blackwell, 3rd edition.

  • "Theorizing about Ethics,"
  • Peter Vallentyne, “Consequentialism”, LaFollette, ed., Chapter 1
  • David McNaughton and Piers Rawling, “Deontology”, LaFollette, ed. Chapter 2
  • Rosalind Hursthouse, “Virtue Theory”, LaFollette, ed. Chapter 3.
  • J.S. Mill, “Freedom of Action.” LaFollette, ed. Chapter 28.
  • Lester Hunt, “On Improving People by Political Means.” LaFollette, ed.
    Chapter 29.
  • John Rawls, “A Theory of Justice.” LaFollette, ed. Chapter 52.
  • Robert Nozick, “The Entitlement Theory of Justice.” LaFollette, ed. Chapter
  • Iris Marion Young, “Displacing the Distributive Paradigm.” LaFollette, ed.
    Chapter 54
  • Peter Singer, “Famine, Affluence, and Morality.” LaFollette, ed. Chapter 56.
  • Thomas Pogge, “Eradicating Systemic Poverty.” LaFollette, ed. Chapter 58.
  • Charles Beitz, “The Justifiability of Humanitarian Intervention.” LaFollette, ed.
    Chapter 66.

Frederickson and Ghere, eds. Ethics in Public Management, 2005.

  • H. George Frederickson, “Public Ethics and the New Managerialism: An
    Axiomatic Theory.” Frederickson and Ghere eds., Chapter 8.
  • Lisa A. Dicke and Pitima Boonyarak, “Ensuring Accountability in Human
    Services: The Dilemma of Measuring Moral and Ethical Performance.”
    Frederickson and Ghere eds., Chapter 9.
  • Laura S. Jensen and Sheila Suess Kennedy, “Public Ethics, Legal
    Accountability, and the New Governance”. Fredrickson and Ghere eds.,
    Chapter 11.
  • Kathryn G. Denhardt and Stuart C. Gilman, “In Search of Virtue: Why Ethics
    Policies Spawn Unintended Consequences.” Frederickson and Ghere eds.,
    Chapter 13.

 Sample Assessment Questions:


Page created by Sean Goertzen and Ben Eisen on 20 May 2015, updated by James Ban 18 August 2015


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School of Public Policy and Governance