PHIL/PLCY 364.001 – Ethics and Economics

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Instructor: Lucia Schwarz. This course meets MWF 1:25 – 2:15 p.m. in DA 112.

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, for example, when they use the notions of welfare and efficiency. 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 normative assumptions behind its use. Next, we will look at the theory of welfare and welfare economics, which is the standard approach taken by economists. However, from the perspective of ethical theory, welfare is not the only dimension along which we should evaluate economic systems and policies. Accordingly, we will follow up by investigating concepts such as freedom and justice. 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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