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Ethics - Bestuursethiek



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 behavior, 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, summarize 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.


On the Public Administration front page of the E-guide you will find links to the website and timetables, uSis and Blackboard.

Mode of Instruction

Lectures (attendance highly recommended).

Course Load

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)
80 hours Readings (compulsory readings = 257 pages, 3.2 pages/hour)
46 hours Paper research / writing

140 hours

Assessment Method

  • 1 paper assignment (critical evaluation of an article): 40% of the final grade

  • 1 written exam: 60% of the final grade

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

Students will be permitted to resit an examination if they have taken the first sit and earned a mark between 3 and 5.5 or with permission of the Board of Examiners.

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


Blackboard will be used for communicating with students and for sharing the necessary documents (syllabus, paper assignment description, etc.).

Reading List

To be specified.


Use both uSis and Blackboard to register for every course.
Register for every course and workgroup via uSis. Some courses and workgroups have a limited number of participants, so register on time (before the course starts). In uSis you can access your personal schedule and view your results. Registration in uSis is possible from four weeks before the start of the course. Also register for every course in Blackboard. Important information about the course is posted here.


Dr. Andrei Poama