Values and Public Policy: Political Philosophy in Practice

Be a part of the University of Oxford’s mission to transform and improve global policymaking.

What is the purpose of government? This is the fundamental question you will examine when studying this ground-breaking short course. You will think critically, drawing out the key values that should be considered in this question.

We seek to arm you with the knowledge and skills to understand the key moral and ethical value concepts that should inform public policy. You will be provided a process by which to engage with and apply political philosophy to the practice of policymaking.

  • Type: Online short course
  • Length: 8 weeks
  • Intakes: February, May, July, October
  • Next start date: 8 October
  • Fees: £1740 (inclusive of VAT)
  • Award: Certificate of completion

Requirements

Values and Public Policy: Political Philosophy in Practice

The course is designed for you if you need to interact, understand and interpret policy as part of your job. You should consider this master’s-level course if:

  • you are a mid-career professional working in an NGO, agency, public or private sector, are a journalist or a civil servant who wants to move into a specialised or management career and must learn to operate more effectively at a strategic level;
  • you are a concerned citizen looking to better understand the complex public policymaking process which directly affects you and your community;
  • you are an experienced professional in the UK Civil Service and are ready to move to a Senior Executive Officer (SEO) position or Higher Executive Officer role (HEO); or
  • you are highly experienced in strategy and need a programme that will provide the tools to help you remain effective and current in your position.

Modules

Values and Public Policy: Political Philosophy in Practice

You will study eight modules over the course of eight weeks. It is a collaborative learning process, week-by-week, so you will have ample opportunity to discuss key policy topics with your peers and a course Facilitator.

Throughout each module, you will complete various activities to help you monitor your understanding of the module content and your progression through the course.

Activities will include set readings, reflection exercises, multiple-choice questions and discussion forums. Your course Facilitator will guide you through these activities and provide feedback at each stage. These activities are not formally graded but your participation in each task counts towards your final grade.

  • Module 0: Getting started
  • Module 1: Introduction to foundations
  • Module 2: The common good
  • Module 3: Distributive justice: property, tax and welfare
  • Module 4: Distributive justice: social justice
  • Module 5: Authority and resistance: democracy, its rivals and its pathologies
  • Module 6: Authority and resistance: human rights and civil disobedience
  • Module 7: Philosophy in public life
  • Module 8: Summary

Faculty

Values and Public Policy: Political Philosophy in Practice

Your learning material is provided by our expert faculty. Learn more about the academics:

Jonathan Wolff

ALFRED LANDECKER PROFESSOR OF VALUES AND PUBLIC POLICY

Faculty and researchers

Read bio

Tom Simpson

ASSOCIATE PROFESSOR OF PHILOSOPHY AND PUBLIC POLICY

Faculty and researchers

Read bio

Learning support and outcomes

Values and Public Policy: Political Philosophy in Practice

In addition to learning from our expert world-leading academics, you will also benefit from a course Facilitator who will provide academic guidance throughout your learning journey.

Upon completion of the course, you will receive a certificate that will support your career in real terms.

The Facilitator will:

  • comment on weekly discussions on specific topics;
  • provide feedback on all project tasks; and
  • give comments and feedback on all activities throughout.

The learning outcomes for the course are as follows:

  • Be able to recognise when issues of public policy are not solely technical but involve fundamental values and conflicts between these values.
  • Have a good understanding of the key-value concepts that should inform public policy.
  • Have developed skills of reasoning about and resolving ethical dilemmas and be able to communicate their conclusions and the reasons for them.
  • Have critically scrutinised your own ethical and political assumptions, and reflected on the moral complexities of policymaking scenarios that you have or may find yourself in.

Live sessions with course experts

Values and Public Policy: Political Philosophy in Practice

A great benefit to the Values and Public Policy short course is the additional learning time you will have with our expert academics and the course Facilitator.

In three live webinar sessions, you will:

  • delve into a relevant case studies with Tom Simpson;
  • ask course content-related questions with Jonathan Wolff; and
  • have a discussion-based activity with your course Facilitator, Daniel Baker.

All sessions are optional, and if you cannot attend, there are still ways to participate and learn from each session and you will have full access to recordings of each session. You can choose to attend all sessions, without limitations.

More details on the sessions can be found below. 

Values and Public Policy

Man in office with tablet compuer
  • Type: Online short course
  • Length: 8 weeks
  • Intakes: February, May, July, October
  • Next start date: 8 October
  • Fees: £1740 (inclusive of VAT)
  • Award: Certificate of completion

Enrol now >

The course is designed for you if you need to interact, understand and interpret policy as part of your job. You should consider this master’s-level course if:

  • you are a mid-career professional working in an NGO, agency, public or private sector, are a journalist or a civil servant who wants to move into a specialised or management career and must learn to operate more effectively at a strategic level;
  • you are a concerned citizen looking to better understand the complex public policymaking process which directly affects you and your community;
  • you are an experienced professional in the UK Civil Service and are ready to move to a Senior Executive Officer (SEO) position or Higher Executive Officer role (HEO); or
  • you are highly experienced in strategy and need a programme that will provide the tools to help you remain effective and current in your position.

You will study eight modules over the course of eight weeks. It is a collaborative learning process, week-by-week, so you will have ample opportunity to discuss key policy topics with your peers and a course Facilitator.

Throughout each module, you will complete various activities to help you monitor your understanding of the module content and your progression through the course.

Activities will include set readings, reflection exercises, multiple-choice questions and discussion forums. Your course Facilitator will guide you through these activities and provide feedback at each stage. These activities are not formally graded but your participation in each task counts towards your final grade.

  • Module 0: Getting started
  • Module 1: Introduction to foundations
  • Module 2: The common good
  • Module 3: Distributive justice: property, tax and welfare
  • Module 4: Distributive justice: social justice
  • Module 5: Authority and resistance: democracy, its rivals and its pathologies
  • Module 6: Authority and resistance: human rights and civil disobedience
  • Module 7: Philosophy in public life
  • Module 8: Summary

Your learning material is provided by our expert faculty. Learn more about the academics.

Martin Williams

ASSOCIATE PROFESSOR IN PUBLIC MANAGEMENT

Faculty and researchers

Read bio

Julien Labonne

ASSOCIATE PROFESSOR IN ECONOMICS AND PUBLIC POLICY

Faculty and researchers

Read bio

In addition to learning from our expert world-leading academics, you will also benefit from a course Facilitator who will provide academic guidance throughout your learning journey.

Upon completion of the course, you will receive a certificate which will support your career in real terms.

The Facilitator will:

  • comment on weekly discussions on specific topics;
  • provide feedback on all project tasks; and
  • give comments and feedback on all activities throughout.

The learning outcomes for the course are as follows:

  • Be able to recognise when issues of public policy are not solely technical but involve fundamental values and conflicts between these values.
  • Have a good understanding of the key-value concepts that should inform public policy.
  • Have developed skills of reasoning about and resolving ethical dilemmas and be able to communicate their conclusions and the reasons for them.
  • Have critically scrutinised your own ethical and political assumptions, and reflected on the moral complexities of policy-making scenarios that you have or may find yourself in.

About the course

Our Values and Public Policy: Political Philosophy in Practice course promotes careful and critical evaluation of the thinking that should underpin good policy decisions and reflection on the moral complexities that policy makers must engage with. It explores practical dilemmas when the idea of government’s purpose may conflict with fundamental values.

There are five key themes explored in the course:

Purpose – being able to evaluate the purpose of public policy and government, and understand the role of the individual.

Decision-making – understanding the distinctions between what decisions to make and how to make them.

Values – being able to apply philosophical approaches to evaluate values in public policy.

Ethics – the application of ethics for moral leadership: weighing up different moral/ethical decisions.

Problem solving – dealing with wicked problems in a complex world and applying technical solutions.

There are no entry requirements for this short course though it is expected that you will have had some exposure to politics/political philosophy before joining. It is also expected that you have career experience working with policy, in any industry.

Watch the one-minute video for an overview of the course.

Live sessions with course experts

Live facilitator discussion session in week three
60-minute live session

In the short activity below, you will be asked to think about whether or not you agree with Nozick’s view that taxation is ‘on a par’ with forced labour.

You can either bring your thoughts and questions along to the session or submit them in the discussion box in the course, prior to the session taking place. The live session will give you a great opportunity to meet your fellow learners and engage directly with your Facilitator, Daniel.

If you can’t join the live case study session, you can still participate by reading through the case study, then preparing and submitting your responses to the study questions in your discussion boards within the learning platform.

Live case study session with Tom Simpson in week five
90-minute live session

In this section, you will be presented with a case study on flag burning in Germany.

You will be asked to read through the case study and take some time to focus on the study questions presented at the end.

If you plan on joining the optional live case study session, you must come ready to discuss them in the session.

If you can’t join the live case study session, you can still participate by reading through the case study, then preparing and submitting your responses to the study questions in your discussion boards within the learning platform.

Live Q&A session with Jonathan Wolff in week seven
90-minute session

At this stage of the course, you may find that you have some content-related questions that you would like to pursue at greater length or in further depth with the course academic, Jonathan Wolff.

You have the opportunity in this session to discuss these questions and thoughts with Jonathan.

You will submit any content-related questions ahead of the session and discuss them in the live session with Jonathan and your course peers.

Modules

In this initial module, you will:

  • recognise the purpose, outcomes, assessment methods and overall structure of the course;
  • know what is expected of you in terms of engagement and collaboration; and
  • know about the Open edX platform and how to navigate it.

Your first module focuses on setting foundations. You will:

  • complete a psychological disposition test to explore your basic moral stance towards philosophical and ethical issues;
  • recognise the four main questions to ask when considering issues of political philosophy, including ‘What is the aim?’, ‘What are the limits?’, ‘Who gets what?’ and ‘Who decides?’; and
  • analyse your intuitive judgments on a practical question (eg climate change).

In this module, you will:

  • describe the ways in which human beings find fulfilment in community;
  • think critically on and articulate the subject of just social order within the context of a bigger picture; and
  • demonstrate a capacity for a holistic and intuitive analysis of real-world social problems.

In this module, you will:

  • identify the role of the economy and the government’s interventions in it; and
  • discuss the argument of taxation and distributive justice using theories from Nozick and Rawls.

In this module, you will:

  • reflect on the idea of equality, focusing on equality in society;
  • distinguish between material equality as opposed to equality between people; and
  • evaluate the theory of social justice in light of the oppression of minority groups in society.

In this module, you will:

  • explore the notion of the state and political authority and how this impacts citizens;
  • reflect on democracy and its abuse in society, considering the populism vs. democracy debate; and
  • theorise on public duty to resist injustice in society, including thinking about what forms this resistance might take.

In this module, you will:

  • explore the justification of human rights and how it is used in practice;
  • evaluate how systems of distribution can marginalise some groups in society; and
  • reflect on your position and how you would act when it comes to enforcement of unjust laws.

In this module, you will:

  • reflect on the notion of ‘integrity’ and what it means to act with integrity;
  • recognise the tensions that acting with integrity may bring in real-world environments; and
  • explore moral obligation in the context of personal belief versus public expectation.

In this concluding module, you will work on your final assignment for the course and formally reflect on the four questions introduced in Module 1.

In the assignment, you will have the opportunity to demonstrate your understanding of the various value-based concepts that have been considered during the course and use them to reflect on a real-world policy. You should aim to evaluate the policy in question by drawing on these concepts to reach your final conclusion. This will count for 50% of your final grade.

Modules

In this initial module, you will:

  • recognise the purpose, outcomes, assessment methods and overall structure of the course;
  • know what is expected of you in terms of engagement and collaboration; and
  • know about the Open edX platform and how to navigate it.

Your first module focuses on setting foundations. You will:

  • complete a psychological disposition test to explore your basic moral stance towards philosophical and ethical issues;
  • recognise the four main questions to ask when considering issues of political philosophy, including ‘What is the aim?’, ‘What are the limits?’, ‘Who gets what?’ and ‘Who decides?’; and
  • analyse your intuitive judgments on a practical question (eg climate change).

In this module, you will:

  • describe the ways in which human beings find fulfilment in community;
  • think critically on and articulate the subject of just social order within the context of a bigger picture; and
  • demonstrate a capacity for a holistic and intuitive analysis of real-world social problems.

In this module, you will:

  • identify the role of the economy and the government’s interventions in it; and
  • discuss the argument of taxation and distributive justice using theories from Nozick and Rawls.

In this module, you will:

  • reflect on the idea of equality, focusing on equality in society;
  • distinguish between material equality as opposed to equality between people; and
  • evaluate the theory of social justice in light of the oppression of minority groups in society.

In this module, you will:

  • explore the notion of the state and political authority and how this impacts citizens;
  • reflect on democracy and its abuse in society, considering the populism vs. democracy debate; and
  • theorise on public duty to resist injustice in society, including thinking about what forms this resistance might take.

In this module, you will:

  • explore the justification of human rights and how it is used in practice;
  • evaluate how systems of distribution can marginalise some groups in society; and
  • reflect on your position and how you would act when it comes to enforcement of unjust laws.

In this module, you will:

  • reflect on the notion of ‘integrity’ and what it means to act with integrity;
  • recognise the tensions that acting with integrity may bring in real-world environments; and
  • explore moral obligation in the context of personal belief versus public expectation.

In this concluding module, you will work on your final assignment for the course and formally reflect on the four questions introduced in Module 1.

In the assignment, you will have the opportunity to demonstrate your understanding of the various value-based concepts that have been considered during the course and use them to reflect on a real-world policy. You should aim to evaluate the policy in question by drawing on these concepts to reach your final conclusion. This will count for 50% of your final grade.

Faculty

Jonathan Wolff

ALFRED LANDECKER PROFESSOR OF VALUES AND PUBLIC POLICY

Jonathan Wolff is the Alfred Landecker Professor of Values and Public Policy and Governing Body Fellow at Wolfson College. He was formerly Blavatnik Chair in Public Policy at the School, and before that Professor of Philosophy and Dean of Arts and Humanities at UCL.

He is currently developing a new research programme on revitalising democracy and civil society, in accordance with the aims of the Alfred Landecker Professorship. His other current work largely concerns equality, disadvantage, social justice and poverty, as well as applied topics such as public safety, disability, gambling, and the regulation of recreational drugs, which he has discussed in his books Ethics and Public Policy: A Philosophical Inquiry (Routledge 2011) and The Human Right to Health (Norton 2012). His most recent book is An Introduction to Moral Philosophy (Norton 2018).

Tom Simpson

ASSOCIATE PROFESSOR OF PHILOSOPHY AND PUBLIC POLICY

Tom Simpson is Associate Professor of Philosophy and Public Policy at the Blavatnik School of Government, University of Oxford, and a Senior Research Fellow at Wadham College.

He works particularly on trust, and issues at the intersection of technology and security. For an overview of his research, see this broadcast with ABC.

He joined the School from Cambridge, where he was a Research Fellow at Sidney Sussex College, and was also educated (BA, MPhil, PhD).

Between degrees he was an officer with the Royal Marines Commandos for five years. He served in Northern Ireland; Baghdad, Iraq; and Helmand Province, Afghanistan. The academic life is undoubtedly a privilege, but he remains conflicted about its sedentary nature.

Faculty

Jonathan Wolff

ALFRED LANDECKER PROFESSOR OF VALUES AND PUBLIC POLICY

Jonathan Wolff is the Alfred Landecker Professor of Values and Public Policy and Governing Body Fellow at Wolfson College. He was formerly Blavatnik Chair in Public Policy at the School, and before that Professor of Philosophy and Dean of Arts and Humanities at UCL. He is currently developing a new research programme on revitalising democracy and civil society, in accordance with the aims of the Alfred Landecker Professorship. His other current work largely concerns equality, disadvantage, social justice and poverty, as well as applied topics such as public safety, disability, gambling, and the regulation of recreational drugs, which he has discussed in his books Ethics and Public Policy: A Philosophical Inquiry (Routledge 2011) and The Human Right to Health (Norton 2012). His most recent book is An Introduction to Moral Philosophy (Norton 2018).

Tom Simpson

ASSOCIATE PROFESSOR OF PHILOSOPHY AND PUBLIC POLICY

Tom Simpson is Associate Professor of Philosophy and Public Policy at the Blavatnik School of Government, University of Oxford, and a Senior Research Fellow at Wadham College.

He works particularly on trust, and issues at the intersection of technology and security. For an overview of his research, see this broadcast with ABC.

He joined the School from Cambridge, where he was a Research Fellow at Sidney Sussex College, and was also educated (BA, MPhil, PhD).

Between degrees he was an officer with the Royal Marines Commandos for five years. He served in Northern Ireland; Baghdad, Iraq; and Helmand Province, Afghanistan. The academic life is undoubtedly a privilege, but he remains conflicted about its sedentary nature.

Course Facilitator

Daniel Baker

Daniel is the course Facilitator for the Values in Public Policy Course. He holds a doctorate in Public Policy from the University of California, Berkeley, a JD in law from Duke University, and a diploma in economics from the University of Cambridge. Daniel is a licensed attorney and a Lecturer at the Goldman School of Public Policy, UC Berkeley.

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