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Ethics and Economics


Admission requirements

Admission to this course is restricted to MA students in Philosophy 60 EC, specialisation Philosophical Perspectives on Politics and the Economy.


This course explores the relation between ethics and economics, more specifically the role of ethical reasoning in economic theorizing and policy making. The course is divided into three parts.

We will begin, in the first part, by critically examining the division between positive and normative economics. The first part will also include a survey of key concepts and theories in economics from an ethical perspective identifying normative assumptions that underline standard economic reasoning. Concepts and theories addressed in this part include welfare, market, efficiency and rational choice theory. What is the relationship between preferences, utility and welfare/well-being? What is the relationship between economic rationality and morality? What is a market? Are competitive markets morally-free zones? Are there moral limits on what may be bought and sold?

In the second part, we will explore the ethical foundations and comparisons of different economic systems with respect to arguments related to notions of efficiency, liberty, rights, and exploitation. Are the existing institutions and social structures of capitalism just? Are different kinds of institutions and social structures alternative to capitalism feasible and/or desirable?

In the third part of the course, important policy issues will be addressed using the combined powers of ethics and economics developed in the previous parts of the course. In this part, we will examine, among other issues, environmental degradation and global warming, the use of cost-benefit analysis in public policy, global inequalities, and economic crises.

Course objectives

This course aims to introduce students the role of ethical reasoning in economic theorizing, in economic policy making and in the organization of economic life.

Students who successfully complete the course will have a good understanding of:

  • the linkages between economics and moral philosophy;

  • the normative assumptions that underline standard economic concepts and theories such as efficiency, market, and rational choice theory;

  • the role of ethical reasoning in economic policy-making.

Students who successfully complete the course will be able to:

  • compare different economic systems according to their normative foundations;

  • develop critical and argumentative skills through seminar discussion and analysis of philosophical texts;

  • practice, refine and further develop oral argumentation and presentation skills;

  • provide critical and constructive feedback on other's work through peer-review;

  • carry out research on both theoretical/conceptual and applied questions of economic ethics and provide research results in writing.


Visit MyTimetable.

Mode of instruction

  • Seminars

Class attendance is required.

Assessment method


  • Reading memos and participation: 10%

  • Class presentation: 10%

  • Peer-review: 10%

  • Essay proposal: 20%

  • Final essay: 50%


The final mark for the course is established by determination of the weighted average of several exam components (reading memos and participation, class presentation and peer review, essay proposal, final essay). An exam component can be graded as unsatisfactory.

Note: attendance is required – without sufficient attendance students will be excluded from submitting a final paper.


The resit covers the following exam component: written final paper (70%).
The grades for other exam components (eading memos, participation, class presentation and peer-review) remain in place

Class participation and completion of practical assignments such as the class presentation is a mandatory requirement for taking the resit.
Students who have obtained a satisfactory grade for the first examination cannot take the resit.

Inspection and feedback

How and when an exam review will take place will be disclosed together with the publication of the exam results at the latest. If a student requests a review within 30 days after publication of the exam results, an exam review will have to be organized.

Reading list

The full reading list will be made available at the beginning of the course. This year's reading list will include (selections from) the following book:

  • Hausman, Daniel, Michael McPherson, and Debra Satz. Economic Analysis, Moral Philosophy, and Public Policy. Cambridge University Press, 2016.


Enrolment through uSis is mandatory.
General information about uSis is available on the website.

Students are strongly advised to register in uSis through the activity number, which can be found in the timetables for courses and exams.

Registration Studeren à la carte and Contractonderwijs

Not applicable.


Dr. S. Bagatur


Not applicable.