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Justice in Public Policy

Public Policy H&S - Humanities & Sciences

Course Description

How should we judge the fairness of social institutions? This is the basic question of justice, and it is a crucial topic for students of public policy. Justice, the philosopher John Rawls famously argued, is the "first virtue of social institutions ... laws and institutions no matter how efficient and well-arranged must be reformed or abolished if they are unjust." Justice is an ethical question about how we as moral beings ought to treat one another, but it is also a profoundly practical question. All human endeavors require large-scale coordination of our actions, which we achieve through laws and institutions. But law without justice is merely mass coercion, neither desirable nor sustainable. In this class we examine some of the most influential theories of fairness in social cooperation, including utilitarianism, social contract theory, liberalism, socialism, and libertarianism, and talk through how we can use these theories to analyze, evaluate, and (re)design public policy. Key questions include: Under what conditions is inequality of wealth and income problematic, and why? What are rights, and why do they matter? How should we balance the needs of individuals against the claims of groups? This class is also meant to provide students with the critical tools to identify and remedy injustices. No experience with political theory is required or assumed, and students will learn the skills of how to do political theory and how to incorporate it into policy work as part of the course. Open only to graduate students; permission number required to enroll.

Grading Basis

ROP - Letter or Credit/No Credit





Course Repeatable for Degree Credit?


Course Component


Enrollment Optional?


Does this course satisfy the University Language Requirement?



PUBLPOL314 is a completion requirement for: