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Ethics and Public Policy

Purpose of Course  showclose

Students of political science should understand how ethics, culture, religion, and morality help to shape public debate, policymaking, and policy execution. This course will provide you with an overview of the role that ethical, cultural, religious, and moral principles play in the formulation and execution of public policy by lawmakers and other public officials.

After studying the foundational theories of ethics and morality in politics, you will review arguments about existing issues in domestic and international policy, studying each dilemma from a variety of perspectives.  Common themes seen in ethics debates include justice, equality, fairness, individual liberty, free enterprise, charity, fundamental human rights, and minimizing harm to others. These themes are integrated into various decision-making models, such as the Utilitarian Approach, the Fairness and Justice Approach, and the Rights Approach.

In the execution of public policy, it is impossible to do no harm to others; often, public policy requires the redistribution of resources, denial of rights or privileges, or promotion of one group at the expense of another.  Decision-making frameworks are used to help balance competing interests and make the best, or sometimes “the least worst,” decision.  In this course, you will examine five types of decision frameworks used to make and implement public policy, as well as rationales used to justify inequitable impact and outcomes of policies.

Course Information  showclose

Welcome to POLSC401.  Below, please find general information on the course and its requirements.

Course Designer: Dr. Sharon Jumper

Primary Resources: This course is composed of a range of different free, online materials.  However, the course makes primary use of the following:

Requirements for Completion: In order to complete this course, you will need to work through each unit and all of its assigned materials.  Pay special attention to Units 1 and 2, in which you will learn about ethics in philosophical terms, as well as study various decision-making frameworks used by policymakers seeking to balance competing interests and reach the most ethical solutions to problems.  In Units 3–10, you will study the application of each framework to types of commonly seen problems in government and assess the outcomes that each framework offers in a given situation. You will also need to complete the Final Exam.

Note that you will only receive an official grade on your Final Exam.  However, in order to adequately prepare for this exam, you will need to work through all of the course material.  

In order to “pass” this course, you will need to earn a 70% or higher on the Final Exam.  Your score on the exam will be tabulated as soon as you complete it.  If you do not pass the exam, you may take it again.

Time Commitment: This course should take you a total of 143.25 hours to complete.  Each unit includes a “time advisory” that lists the amount of time you are expected to spend on each subunit.  These time advisory sections should help you plan your time accordingly.  It may be useful to take a look at these time advisories and determine how much time you have over the next few weeks to complete each unit, and then set goals for yourself.  For example, Unit 1 should take you 10 hours.  Perhaps you can sit down with your calendar and decide to complete subunits 1.1 (a total of 4 hours) on Monday night, subunit 1.2 (a total of 3 hours) on Tuesday night, etc.

Tips/Suggestions:  Ethics is difficult for students who like clearly defined “right and wrong” answers.  In governance, issues are often quite complex and not amenable to absolute solutions.  Policymakers must often choose the “least harmful” option, rather than the “right” one.  Learned scholars and politicians acting in good faith also might apply the same framework to the same problem and get different outcomes, due to biased perspectives.  Keep this in mind as you work through the resources in this course.

Also, as you review the resources in this course, take comprehensive notes.  These notes will serve as a useful review as you prepare for the Final Exam.

Learning Outcomes  showclose

Upon successful completion of this course, the student will be able to:
  • Explain how personal morality and ethics impact the policymaking process.
  • Discuss various ethical frameworks used to resolve policy dilemmas.
  • Identify statutes, ethical codes, and legal opinions that define the normative parameters of key domestic and international policy issues.

Course Requirements  showclose

In order to take this course, you must:

√    Have a computer.

√    Have continuous broadband Internet access.

√    Have the ability/permission to install plug-ins or software (e.g., Adobe Reader or Flash).

√    Have the ability to download and save files and documents to a computer.

√    Have the ability to open Microsoft files and documents (.doc, .ppt., .xls, etc.).

√    Have competency in the English language.

√    Have read the Saylor Student Handbook.

√    Have completed and passed the following courses: 

Preliminary Information

  • Principles of Economics

    Link: Principles of Economics (PDF)

    You will be prompted to read sections of this book throughout the course.  You may choose to download the text in full now and skip to the appropriate section as prompted by the instructions in the resource boxes below, or you can simply download the specific sections of the text assigned as you progress through each resource box.

    Terms of Use: The text was adapted by The Saylor Foundation under the Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 3.0 License without attribution as requested by the work's original creator or licensee.

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