PPE in Practice I: Wellbeing, Politics and Markets

  • Period 3.
  • Mandatory course.


The course Introduction to PPE: Wellbeing, Politics and Markets introduces students to the interdisciplinary issues that lie at the heart of the PPE programme through a carefully selected sequence of lectures and seminars that combine philosophical, economic and political science theories with real world case studies. The course begins by asking why markets matter. Here students are introduced to the fundamental theorems of welfare economics, which show that (perfectly) competitive markets are efficient mechanisms to allocate scarce resources and maximize welfare. Seminars and subsequent lectures will address the political and moral relevance of these theorems. Students will be introduced to the tensions between fairness, equity and efficiency and will discuss what role governments should play in promoting and preserving individual welfare. The various issues discussed in the opening session of the course will be integrated through a case discussion of sweatshops and fair trade practices. Then the course moves on to address a more fundamental philosophical issue that is central to welfare economics and politics: what is welfare? Here students will be introduced to a number of different theories of welfare, including utilitarianism, along with the benefits and limitations of each. Next the so-called ‘embeddedness’ of economics is discussed: the fact that economic activity is created and shaped by political decisions, social conventions, and shared norms and understandings. It is shown that public intervention and regulation have played a decisive role in the institutional separation of society into an economic and political sphere by providing a supportive framework in which markets can prosper: without enforceable rules, free markets cannot function. We discuss the role of rights and how a guarantee of basic access to social protection and provisions of education and primary health care has affected the role of the state.


After completing the course, students will have gained:

  • An understanding of the theories and approaches at the intersection of philosophy,
    economics and political science.
  • The ability to assess the limitations of these theories and approaches.
  • The ability to assess how these tools can be used for the analysis of policy issues and
    democratic decision-making.
  • An understanding of public policy and its implementation, along with the ability to relate
    different policy positions to more fundamental philosophical, economic and/or political views.

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