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Instructor: Lucia Schwarz. This course meets MWF 1:25 – 2:15 p.m. in PE 2060.

This course explores the intersection of ethics and economics. How can ethical theory inform economic analysis and the other way around? Economics is the study of the production, consumption, and distribution of goods and services. Ethical theory is the study of the good and the right; it asks how things should be, rather than how they are. Thus, ethical theory is normative rather than descriptive. As we will see throughout this course, economists frequently (and often unwittingly) make normative assumptions. Ethical theory can help clarify these assumptions and allows us to critically examine and challenge them where appropriate.

We will start by investigating the concept of rationality that is used in economic analysis and identify the philosophical assumptions behind its use. Next, we will look at welfare economics, which is the standard approach taken by economists when evaluating policies and institutions. We will see that economists make controversial assumptions about what welfare consists in, and we will learn about alternative criteria through which policies and institutions can be evaluated. Next, we will explore how some formal methods in economics are both informed by and can inform ethical theory. Finally, we will apply what we have learned to some concrete policy issues.


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