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Ethics and Public Policy


Contact: ethicsandpublicpolicy@gmail.com


  • Promote research on the ethical dimensions of public policy.
  • Improve ethics education for Public Policy/Public Affairs/Public Administration students.
  • Build a community of teachers and researchers.


  • Scholars teaching and conducting research on the normative dimension of public policy.

October 15th 9:30am-11:00am EDT Mollie Gerver, Lecturer (Assistant Professor) in Political Theory, Department of Government, University of Essex

Please register for Zoom meeting here.

Title: Asylum Offsetting

Abstract: States have an obligation to assist refugees, but some states assist refugees via means other than granting them asylum. In other words, they offset their failure to grant refugees asylum by helping refugees in other ways, such as by sending them aid in camps in low-income countries. Such Asylum Offsetting can be wrong in virtue of intentions, as when states send aid to refugees abroad to avoid accepting non-white refugees, and it can be wrong in virtue of its effects, as when states send aid less effective than offering asylum. I demonstrate that these wrongs can be avoided if states engage not in Asylum Offsetting, but in Moral Trades. Moral Trades arise when Y morally values φ-ing, X morally values ψ-ing, and X does φ in return for Y doing ψ (Ord 2015). In the context of refugee protection, a state X which values sending aid abroad might agree to grant asylum to many refugees, despite not valuing accepting these refugees, in return for another state which values asylum for refugees giving a large amount of aid abroad, despite this other state not valuing giving aid abroad. Moral trades avoid wrongs common in Asylum Offsetting, so long as no offsetting is involved. Offsetting can be involved in moral trades if one state X commits a wrong and offsets this with φ-ing, because Y values φ-ing, in return for Y offsetting its wrong with ψ-ing, because X values ψ-ing. For example, a state might wrongly use violence to deter refugees from arriving and offsets this by sending aid which Y values, but only if state Y which is wrongly refusing to send aid offsets this by accepting refugees which X values. I argue that policies should shift towards moral trades involving neither wrongs nor offsetting, but that moral trades with wrongs and offsetting are superior to moral trades alongside wrongs and no offsetting.


November 19th 9:30am-11:00am EST Andreas T. Schmidt Associate Professor in Political Philosophy, Faculty of Philosophy, University of Groningen

Zoom details and registration information to come.

Title: “Do We Have Too Much Choice?”

Abstract: In institutional design, securing freedom of choice for individuals is clearly important. But how much choice should we aim for? Various theorists – including Gerald Dworkin, Joseph Raz, and Barry Schwartz – argue that above some level, choice seems to improve neither wellbeing nor autonomy. Worse still, much psychology research suggests that too much choice even makes us worse off. Such reasons suggest we should adopt the Sufficiency View: increasing choice is only important up to a sufficiency level L, where L is not too far from the level enjoyed by well-off citizens in rich liberal countries today. I argue that we should reject the Sufficiency View and accept Liberal Optimism instead: expanding freedom of choice should remain an important priority even far beyond levels enjoyed in rich liberal countries today. I argue that none of the arguments given for the Sufficiency View work. Importantly, neither psychological evidence nor any broader social trends support it. If anything, they support Liberal Optimism instead. I also indicate why further increases are possible and desirable and briefly sketch some implications for debates around immigration, economic growth and markets, and the value of community.


December 3rd 9:30am-11:00am EST Emily McTernan, Associate Professor, Department of Political Science, University College London

Zoom details and registration information to come.

Title: TBA

Blake, Michael, Professor of Philosophy, Public Policy, and Governance, Department of Philosophy, Daniel J. Evans School of Public Affairs, University of Washington

Budolfson, Mark, Assistant Professor, Center for Population-Level Bioethics, Department of Environmental and Occupational Health, Rutgers University

Cohen, Elizabeth, Professor, Department of Political Science, Maxwell School of Citizenship and Public Affairs, Syracuse University

De Wispelaere, Jurgen, Assistant Professor, Stockholm School of Economics in Riga, Adjunct Professor in Philosophy of Social Policy, Tampere University. 

Engster, Daniel, Professor, Hobby School of Public Affairs, University of Houston

Espíndola, Juan, Assistant Professor, Institute for Philosophical Research, National Autonomous University of Mexico 

Gerver, Mollie, Lecturer (Assistant Professor) in Political Theory, Department of Government, University of Essex

Gheaus, Anca, Assistant Professor, Department of Political Science, Central European University

Heath, Joseph, Professor, Department of Philosophy, Munk School of Global Affairs and Public Policy, University of Toronto

Himmelreich, Johannes, Assistant Professor, Department of Public Administration and International Affairs, Maxwell School of Citizenship and Public Affairs, Syracuse University

Hosein, Adam Omar, Associate Professor, Department of Philosophy, Northeastern University

Huang, Karen, Assistant Professor, McCourt School of Public Policy, Georgetown University

Kelleher, J. Paul, Associate Professor, Department of Medical History & Bioethics, Department of Philosophy, University of Wisconsin-Madison

Lever, Annabelle, Professor, Sciences Po, Permanent Researcher, Centre de Recherches Politiques de Sciences Po

MacKay, Douglas, Associate Professor, Department of Public Policy, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill

Mancilla, Alejandra, Professor, Department of Philosophy, Classics, History of Art and Ideas, University of Oslo

McTernan, Emily, Associate Professor, Department of Political Science, University College London

Panitch, Vida, Associate Professor, Department of Philosophy, Ethics and Public Affairs, Carleton University

Pearson, Jay A., Assistant Professor, Sanford School of Public Policy, Duke University

Pérez Muñoz, Cristian, Assistant Professor, Department of Political Science, University of Florida

Persad, Govind, Assistant Professor, Sturm College of Law, University of Denver

Pevnick, Ryan, Associate Professor, Department of Politics, New York University

Poama, Andrei, Assistant Professor, Faculty of Governance and Global Affairs, Universiteit Leiden

Rivera López, Eduardo, Full Professor, School of Law, Universidad Torcuato Di Tella

Robeyns, Ingrid, Chair in Ethics of Institutions, The Ethics Institute, Utrecht University

Rose, Julie L., Associate Professor, Department of Government, Dartmouth College

Schmidt, Andreas T., Associate Professor in Political Philosophy, Faculty of Philosophy, University of Groningen

Soon, Valerie, Postdoctoral Fellow, McCoy Family Center for Ethics in Society, Stanford University

Thoma, Johanna, Associate Professor, Department of Philosophy, Logic, and Scientific Method, London School of Economics

Voigt, Kristin, Associate Professor, Department of Philosophy, Institute for Health and Social Policy, McGill University

Weinstock, Daniel, Professor, Katharine A. Pearson Chair in Civil Society and Public Policy, Faculties of Law and of Arts, McGill University

Wolff, Jonathan, Alfred Landecker Professor of Values and Public Policy, Blavatnik School of Government, University of Oxford

Blake, Michael. “What is the Border For?” Journal of Moral Philosophy 17, no. 4 (2020): 379-397. https://doi-org.libproxy.lib.unc.edu/10.1163/17455243-20192983

Cohen, Elizabeth F. Illegal: How America’s Lawless Immigration Regime Threatens Us All. New York: Basic Books: 2020.

De Wispelaere, Jurgen, and Leticia Morales. “Emergency Basic Income during the Pandemic.” Cambridge Quarterly of Healthcare Ethics 30, no. 2 (2021): 248-254. https://doi.org/10.1017/S0963180120000808

Engster, Daniel. “A Public Ethics of Care for Policy Implementation.” American Journal of Political Science 64, no. 3 (2020): 621-633. https://doi.org/10.1111/ajps.12487

Espíndola, Juan. “Low-Fee Private Schools in Developing Nations: Some Cautionary Remarks.” Global Justice: Theory Practice Rhetoric 12, no. 1 (2020): 55-77. https://doi.org/10.21248/gjn.12.01.229

Fleurbaey, Marc, Maddalena Ferranna, Mark Budolfson, Francis Dennig, Kian Mintz-Woo, Robert Socolow, Dean Spears, and Stephane Zuber. “The Social Cost of Carbon: Valuing Inequality, Risk, and Population for Climate Policy.” The Monist 102, no. 1 (2019): 84-109. https://doi.org/10.1093/monist/ony023

Gerver, Mollie. “The Case for Permanent Residency for Frontline Workers.” American Political Science Review Forthcoming. https://doi.org/10.1017/S0003055421000708

Gerver, Mollie. “Consent and Third-Party Coercion.” Ethics 131, no. 2 (2021): 246-269. https://doi.org/10.1086/711208

Gheaus, Anca. “The Feminist Argument against Supporting Care.” Journal of Practical Ethics 8, no. 1: 1-27. https://www.jpe.ox.ac.uk/papers/the-feminist-argument-against-supporting-care/

Heath, Joseph. The Machinery of Government: Public Administration and the Liberal State. New York: Oxford University Press, 2020.

Hosein, Adam Omar. The Ethics of Migration: An Introduction. New York: Routledge, 2019.

Hosein, Adam Omar. “Racial Profiling and a Reasonable Sense of Inferior Political Status.” Journal of Political Philosophy 26, no. 3 (2018): e1-e20. https://doi-org.libproxy.lib.unc.edu/10.1111/jopp.12162

Kelleher, J. Paul. “Pure Time Preference in Intertemporal Welfare Economics.” Economics & Philosophy 33, no. 3 (2017): 441-473. https://doi.org/10.1017/S0266267117000074

MacKay, Douglas. “Government Policy Experiments and the Ethics of Randomization.” Philosophy & Public Affairs 48, no. 1 (2020): 319-352. https://doi-org.libproxy.lib.unc.edu/10.1111/papa.12174

McTernan, Emily. “Taking Offense: An Emotion Reconsidered.” Philosophy & Public Affairs 49, no. 2 (2021): 179-208. https://doi.org/10.1111/papa.12188

McTernan, Emily. “Justice, Feasibility, and Social Science as it is.” Ethical Theory and Moral Practice 22, no. 1 (2019): 27-40. https://doi.org/10.1007/s10677-018-9970-y

Panitch, Vida. “Liberalism, Commodification and Justice.” Politics, Philosophy & Economics 19, no. 1 (2020): 62-82. https://doi-org.libproxy.lib.unc.edu/10.1177/1470594X19877653

Panitch, Vida, and L. Chad Horne. “Commodification, Inequality, and Kidney Markets.” Social Theory and Practice 44, no. 1 (2018): 121-143. https://doi.org/10.5840/soctheorpract201812531

Pérez-Muñoz, Cristian. “The Strange Silence of Latin American Political Theory.” Political Studies Review Forthcoming. https://doi.org/10.1177/14789299211023342

Poama, Andrei. “Social Injustice, Disadvantaged Offenders, and the State’s Authority to Punish.” Journal of Political Philosophy 29, no. 1 (2021): 73-93. https://doi.org/10.1111/jopp.12218

Schmidt, Andreas T. “Should We Extend Voluntary Euthanasia to Non-medical Cases? Solidarity and the Social Context of Elderly Suffering.” Journal of Moral Philosophy Forthcoming. https://doi.org/10.1163/17455243-20192823

Schmidt, Andreas T. “Getting Real on Rationality – Behavioral Science, Nudging, and Public Policy.” Ethics 129, no. 4 (2019): 511-543. https://doi.org/10.1086/702970

Spears, Dean, and Mark Budolfson. “Repugnant Conclusions.” Social Choice and Welfare 57, no. 3 (2021): 567-588. https://doi.org/10.1007/s00355-021-01321-2

Thoma, Johanna. “On the Possibility of an Anti-Paternalist Behavioral Welfare Economics.” Journal of Economic Methodology Forthcoming. https://doi.org/10.1080/1350178X.2021.1972128

Wagner, Gernot, David Anthoff, Maureen Cropper, Simon Dietz, Kenneth T. Gillingham, Ben Groom, J. Paul Kelleher, Frances C. Moore, and James J. Stock. “Eight Priorities for Calculating the Social Cost of Carbon.” Nature 590 no. 7847 (2021): 548-550. https://doi.org/10.1038/d41586-021-00441-0

Voigt, Kristin. “Relational Equality and the Expressive Dimension of State Action.” Social Theory and Practice 44, no. 3 (2018): 437-467. https://doi.org/10.5840/soctheorpract201853038

Undergraduate Syllabi:

Douglas MacKay, Public Policy 71 Justice and Inequality, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill

Douglas MacKay, Public Policy 340 Justice in Public Policy, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill


MPP/MPA Syllabi:


PhD Syllabi:

Douglas MacKay, Public Policy 780 Normative Dimensions of Policy Analysis and Research: Theories, Methods, and Ethical Foundations, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill