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Administrative Ethics


Admission requirements

This course is available for Bachelor Public Administration students only.


Ethics matters. It impacts our private lives, informs the structure of governmental institutions, guides our public policies and is of concern to the conduct of civil servants. The importance of ethical reflection becomes visible every time state officials or lay citizens are confronted with moral choices that permeate their actions, whether these choices concern our welfare and health systems, our sexual behaviour, the borders of our community, the rules for our mutual interactions or the kinds of restrictions and incentives the state can legitimately impose on us.

The purpose of this course is to examine two approaches for dealing with such moral choices. The first approach is generally known as applied ethics, and is premised on the claim that the workings of morality can be formulated in terms of a unified ethical theory. This approach implies that, ultimately, moral questions have correct answers and that the role of any appropriate ethical theory is to articulate a coherent conception of morality that can generate and justify these answers. The second (historically more recent) approach is usually called political ethics. Unlike defenders of applied ethics, supporters of political ethics think that disagreement is a persistent feature of our moral lives. Different moral considerations often pull or push us in opposite directions, and are not always reducible to a perfectly coherent ethical conception. Following this second approach, the task of ethics is not that of articulating a theory that captures the ultimate unity of morality. Rather, ethics is about formulating those principles whereby we can manage or, more modestly, make sense of our moral conflicts.

Course objectives

  1. Students should become familiar with some of the major debates and concepts of ethics (at a minimum, they should be able to master concepts such as ‘utilitarianism’, ‘deontology’, ‘virtue ethics’, ‘political ethics’, and so on);
  2. Students should acquire a close understanding of key modes of reasoning, interpreting and constructing an argument in ethical theory;
  3. Students should be able to identify the main claim or thesis of a philosophical text, summarise the way in which the argument is articulated and identify the limits of a philosophical argument;
  4. Students should be able to read ethical theory texts with a critical eye and think about the way in which the historical, social and political context of these texts matter for the argument that is being presented or for the mode of reasoning and the discourse adopted by various moral philosophers;
  5. Students should be able to articulate the ways in which the questions raised by different ethical theories can impact or inform the problems of governance, public policy and administration;
  6. Students should be able to master the basic presentation skills that are required in the context of a standard presentation event (conference, workshop, etc.).


On the Public Administration front page of the studyguide you will find links to the website and timetables, uSis and Brightspace.

Mode of instruction

  • Lectures (attendance highly recommended) (7 x 2 hours)
  • Workshops (2 sessions where student teams meet the course instructor to discuss their assignments)

Workshop attendance
No absence from the workshops is allowed, unless adequately justified (for example, a medical certificate or a message from the study advisor). Students who do not provide an adequately justified excuse from the workshop can be excluded from the course.

According to established norms, a 5 ECTS course requires (5x28=) 140 hours of study.
For this course the study load is roughly divided as follows:

14 hours Lectures (7x2)
4 hours Workshops (2x2)
32 hours Individual work required for the group assignment
5 hours Examination
85 hours Self-study

140 hours

Assessment method

1 group assignment: 50% of the final grade
1 written exam: 50% of the final grade

The grade of both exams has to be 5.5 or higher.
Compensation is not possible.

Partial grades obtained during the 2022/2023 academic year are not valid in the 2023/2024 academic year.

Students that want to take part in a resit for a written exam, are required to register via MyStudymap or uSis. When registering via uSis, use the activity number that can be found on the ‘timetable exams’. For dates and times, please see course syllabus and schedule online.

For further information about the exam rules please see: Rules and Regulations

Reading list



Register yourself via MyStudymap for each course, workgroup and exam (not all courses have workgroups and/or exams). Do so on time, before the start of the course; some courses and workgroups have limited spaces. You can view your personal schedule in MyTimetable after logging in.

Registration for this course is possible from Tuesday 12 December, 13:00 h.

Leiden University uses Brightspace as its online learning management system. After enrolment for the course in MyStudymap you will be automatically enrolled in the Brightspace environment of this course.

More information on registration via MyStudymap can be found on this page.

Please note: guest-/contract-/exchange students do not register via MyStudymap but via uSis.


Dr. A. Poama