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Ethics of Development


Admission requirements

This is a level 100 course, that figures within the International Development track. There are no prerequisites.


This course explores the questions and debates around what is good development of societies, and of the world, and good development for individual persons and groups. The equating of development to economic growth and wealth has been queried, by looking at whom economic growth benefits or harms, and which aspects of life it values or excludes and favours or damages. Concerns which can be neglected by a focus on economic growth include equity, environment, security, personal relationships, identity and culture. Over ten million people a year are displaced from their home due to economic expansion. An important alternative conception of development is ‘human development’, meaning achievement with respect to a wide range of values, and advancement of people’s ability to achieve well-reasoned values. In this course we consider: meanings and evolution of the idea of ‘development’; assumptions and exclusions in economic evaluation, and evidence about human well-being and ill-being; varieties of ‘equity’, and how they can become marginalized; and the significance of several types of security, and their relationships to economic growth. We explore the theoretical approach of ‘human development’, through examination of the theories of needs and basic needs out of which it has grown, the work of amongst others Amartya Sen and Martha Nussbaum, and its confrontation with issues of cultural differences, national sovereignty, and security of many types. At each stage we will ask how and which values are actually or potentially incorporated in systems of policy, law, social routine, and public and individual action.

Course objectives

  • To train in systematic normatively oriented analysis, by careful attention to cases, concepts and systems of concepts, and issues about policy choice and responsibility.

  • To engage in up to date, normatively grounded exploration of different meanings and interpretations of ‘development’, ‘efficiency’, ‘equity’, ‘need’, ‘freedom’, ‘security’.

  • To strengthen the ability to thoughtfully link the worlds of (i) direct experience, politics, journalism and the arts which, while humanly meaningful and emotionally rich, often lack consistent concepts and frameworks, (ii) academically rigorous approaches, which provide more precision and consistency but typically leave out vital aspects of experience and meaning, and (iii) professional and policy work, which have to cope intelligently with practical demands. To deepen insight by analysing cases with use of theory, and testing and refining theory by linkage to cases.

  • To draw on and connect ideas from philosophy, economics, social theory and humanities, and illustrate interdisciplinary thinking.


Please see the LUC website:

Mode of instruction

Sessions will involve a mix of: lecture, small-group discussion, plenary discussion, group presentation. Students will learn from each other through group activities. There will be a combination also of historical and contemporary cases and illustrations, careful analysis of concepts and ethical frameworks, and confrontation of the cases and the concepts/ frameworks with each other.Some lecture notes / course notes will be provided, as Powerpoint presentations, discussion questions, and summary tables or figures

Assessment method

  1. Verbal and interpersonal engagement with course material, and relating it to cases: assessed through Group presentations (30% of final grade in total, divided as follows: Quality of the group’s work 20% and Quality of the individual talk 10%):During sessions 4-14 each student will contribute in two group presentations
  2. Understanding of course content: assessed through Short essay (c.2000 words; 30% of final grade): Week 5 (start of Monday)
  3. Expression of holistic understanding of the course: assessed through Final essay
    (c.3000 words; 40% of final grade): Week 8 (end of Friday)


This course is supported by a BlackBoard site

Reading list

Core textbook: Gasper, D., 2004 The Ethics of Development, Edinburgh University Press. You are advised to buy or share a copy of this book, whose chapters will be basic reading in much of the course. Additional basic readings will be available in the course website on blackboard; together with advice on supplementary/ optional readings. Where possible, open-access online readings/versions will be indicated.


This course is only open for LUC The Hague students.

Contact information

Prof. dr. Des Gasper, International Institute of Social Studies, Kortenaerkade 12, The Hague;

Weekly Overview

Week 1 – Ethics of Development: What? Why? How? Disgraces, Disputes and Dilemmas
Week 2 – Interpretations of ‘Development’, Well-Being and Ill-Being
Week 3 – Interpretations of Effectiveness, Efficiency and Evaluation; plus preparations for first essay
Week 4 – Equity: Dimensions and Disagreements; the case of Displacement
Week 5 – Concepts of ‘Human Development’: Needs and Capabilities
Week 6 – Facing Diversity: the tensions between Cultures and Cosmopolitanism
Week 7 – The Attempted Synthesis in ‘Human Security’ Thinking; Course Review
Week 8 – second essay

Preparation for first session

Do a first reading of Ch. 1 of Gasper, The Ethics of Development, or the paper ‘Development Ethics: What? Why? How?’ that will be in the course website.
And view one or more of: 1) ;