Ethics and Economics FW-ERM7009 Academic Year 2011-2012

Part of the Erasmus University Rotterdam Master in Philosophy and Research Master in Philosophy and Economics programmes.

Course schedule

Tuesdays 14.00-16.00, September 6 – December 13th. Room H5-32


Thomas Wells

Room H4-29

Email: t.r.wells<>

Office hours: by appointment

Course description

This graduate course will offer an overview of one branch of normative ethics, which could be called 'economic ethics'. In the first half of the course we will look at how economics works from an ethical perspective and study some key economics concepts. What do economists mean by rationality and how does it relate to prudence or selfishness? What different notions of welfare/well-being have been proposed? What are the ethics of efficiency and how is it applied in cost-benefit analysis? We will also consider the benefits and limitations of applying economic methods to ethical questions. In the second half we will turn to the ethics of economics in practice, or the ethics of economic life. What are property rights, and what is their moral relevance? What is a market, and what are the virtues and moral limits of markets? How should we think about controversial markets such as for human kidneys? What are the effects of life in commercial society on the character of individuals and society? Throughout the course we will take a broad view of both economics and ethics. We will read and scrutinise the work of leading scholars in the relevant fields. That deep reading will be supplemented by lectures that place these different perspectives and debates in context.


You are recommended to buy Debra Satz (2010) Why Some Things Should Not Be for Sale. On the Limits of Markets, Oxford University Press.

For anyone who has not studied any ethics before:

Please work yourself through an introductory textbook on ethics to get better acquainted with the kind of questions asked and the kind of analysis employed in ethics within the analytical tradition. For example,

Torbjörn Tännsjö (2008) Understanding ethics: an introduction to moral theory. Edinburgh University Press. (2nd edition)

James Rachels & Stuart Rachels (2010) The Elements of Moral Philosophy McGraw Hill (fifth and fourth editions are fine too).

For anyone who has not studied any economics before:

The first part of the course focuses on economic theory, and will refer to various standard concepts from that discipline. You are not expected to become an expert in economics, but you may wish to familiarise yourself with some of the basics in advance by reading a popular introductory book such as Tim Harford’s Undercover Economist. During the course itself you are recommended to look up problematic concepts in the assigned reading in more academic sources, such as The New Palgrave Dictionary of Economics (online, free via university library). You may also find it helpful to read or consult the standard textbook for ethics and economics:

Daniel Hausman and Michael McPherson (2006) Economic Analysis, Moral Philosophy and Public Policy. Second Edition. Cambridge University Press.

Course Materials

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Class schedule, lectures, and readings

Essay instructions

Class Participation