• Offered by School of Philosophy
  • ANU College ANU College of Arts and Social Sciences
  • Course subject Philosophy
  • Areas of interest Philosophy, Policy Studies, Social Research, Economics, Politics
  • Academic career UGRD
  • Course convener
    • AsPr Katie Steele
  • Mode of delivery In Person
  • Offered in First Semester 2022
    See Future Offerings

This course offers critical reflection on the design and evaluation of public policy, drawing on both moral/political philosophy and the philosophy of science. 

The first half of the course concerns general issues in assessing the impact of policy interventions and serves as a philosophical critique of the contemporary ‘evidence-based policy’ movement: What are the arguments for/against alternative measures of policy success or social wellbeing? What is the relevant notion of causation when it comes to attributing outcomes to particular policies, and what counts as good evidence of causal influence? How should risky policies be compared, especially where the risks and benefits of the various policies are distributed ‘unevenly’ across the population? 

The second half of the course considers more specific constraints/aims of policy, often with reference to particular policy areas. Topics will vary but may include: 

• In what contexts, if any, is government paternalism appropriate?

• What is the significance of personal responsibility in the distribution of shared resources?

• Is there a right to privacy?

• What are our rights to freedom of expression?

• How should we respond to minority under-representation in public institutions?

• Is there a collective right to deny citizenship to others, i.e., to control immigration?

• Is statistical discrimination (e.g. racial profiling) ever justified?

• How can/should citizens and their representatives access scientific knowledge pertinent to policy?

Learning Outcomes

Upon successful completion, students will have the knowledge and skills to:

Upon successful completion of this course, students will have the knowledge and skills to:

  1. Understand and articulate key philosophical issues pertaining to the design and evaluation of public policy
  2. Engage with and critically evaluate (in essay form) philosophical arguments concerning moral/political philosophy and philosophy of science that are pertinent to policy-making
  3. Engage in well-reasoned, justified and articulate discussion and debate.

Indicative Assessment

1 x 2500-word essay (45%) (Learning Outcomes 1 and 2)

1 x 2500-word essay (45%) (Learning Outcomes 1 and 2)

Tutorial participation (10%) (Learning Outcomes 1 and 3)

The ANU uses Turnitin to enhance student citation and referencing techniques, and to assess assignment submissions as a component of the University's approach to managing Academic Integrity. While the use of Turnitin is not mandatory, the ANU highly recommends Turnitin is used by both teaching staff and students. For additional information regarding Turnitin please visit the ANU Online website.


130 hours of total student learning time made up from:
a) 35 hours of contact over 12 weeks: 24 hours of lectures and 11 hours of tutorial and tutorial-like activities.
b) 95 hours of independent student research, reading and writing supported by WATTLE recordings and lecture notes.

Preliminary Reading

Cartwright, N. and Hardie, J. (2012) 'Evidence-Based Policy: A Practical Guide to Doing it Better'; Kitcher, P. (2011) 'Science in a Democratic Society'; Douglas, H. (2009) 'Science in Policy-Making: Objectivity, Values, and Risk'; Stiglitz, J.E., Sen, A. and Fitoussi, J. (2010) 'Mismeasuring Our Lives: Why GDP Doesn't Add Up'; Wolff, J. (2011); Sunstein, C. (2002) 'Beyond the Precautionary Principle'; Wolff, J. (2011) 'Ethics and Public Policy: A Philosophical Inquiry'; Feinberg, J. (1971) 'Paternalism'; Mill, J.S. 'On Liberty'; Scanlon, T. (1972) 'A Theory of Freedom of Expression'; Parfit, D. (2000) 'Equality or Priority?'; Segall, S. (2009) Health, Luck and Justice, Princeton University Press; Wellman, C.H. and Cole, P. (2011) 'Debating the Ethics of Immigration'; Kymlicka, W. (1995) 'Multicultural Citizenship'.


Tuition fees are for the academic year indicated at the top of the page.  

Commonwealth Support (CSP) Students
If you have been offered a Commonwealth supported place, your fees are set by the Australian Government for each course. At ANU 1 EFTSL is 48 units (normally 8 x 6-unit courses). More information about your student contribution amount for each course at Fees

Student Contribution Band:
Unit value:
6 units

If you are a domestic graduate coursework student with a Domestic Tuition Fee (DTF) place or international student you will be required to pay course tuition fees (see below). Course tuition fees are indexed annually. Further information for domestic and international students about tuition and other fees can be found at Fees.

Where there is a unit range displayed for this course, not all unit options below may be available.

6.00 0.12500
Note: Please note that fee information is for current year only.

Offerings, Dates and Class Summary Links

The list of offerings for future years is indicative only.
Class summaries, if available, can be accessed by clicking on the View link for the relevant class number.

First Semester

Class number Class start date Last day to enrol Census date Class end date Mode Of Delivery Class Summary
4342 21 Feb 2022 28 Feb 2022 31 Mar 2022 27 May 2022 In Person N/A

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