Durham University
Programme and Module Handbook

Undergraduate Programme and Module Handbook 2017-2018 (archived)

Module PHIL2171: The Philosophy of Economics and Politics: Theory, Methods, and Values

Department: Philosophy

PHIL2171: The Philosophy of Economics and Politics: Theory, Methods, and Values

Type Open Level 2 Credits 20 Availability Available in 2017/18 Module Cap Location Durham


  • At least one level-1 module in philosophy or economics


  • None

Excluded Combination of Modules

  • None


  • The aim of this module is to introduce students to theoretical, methodological and ethical issues raised by economic science.


  • Issues in the theoretical foundations of economics: theories of rational choice (including game theory), principles and justification; causation and explanation; mechanisms; laws in social science.
  • Methodological issues in economics: measurement; econometric inference; modelling, economic experiments; evidence-based policy.
  • Ethical issues in economics: well-being; distributive justice; the moral limits of the market; libertarian paternalism.
  • The content of the module will largely be based on Reiss, Julian 2013, The Philosophy of Economics, New York and London: Routledge (http://www.routledge.com/books/details/9780415881173/)

Learning Outcomes

Subject-specific Knowledge:
  • By the end of this module students will have knowledge and understanding of some basic theoretical, methodological and ethical questions concerning economic science, key answers relating to those questions, and arguments for and against those answers.
Subject-specific Skills:
  • By the end of the module students will be able to:
  • correctly utilise specialist vocabulary;
  • grasp, analyse, evaluate and deploy subject-specific concepts and arguments;
  • locate, understand, assess and utilise pertinent philosophical and historical sources;
  • interpret and criticise relevant texts.
Key Skills:
  • By the end of the module students will be able to:
  • express themselves clearly and succinctly in writing;
  • comprehend complex ideas, propositions and theories;
  • defend their opinions by reasoned argument;
  • seek out and identify appropriate sources of evidence and information;
  • tackle problems in a clear-sighted and logical fashion.

Modes of Teaching, Learning and Assessment and how these contribute to the learning outcomes of the module

  • Lectures deliver basic module-specific information, and provide a framework for further study.
  • Discussion groups provide opportunities for students to test their own understanding of the material studied, and defend and debate different opinions.
  • Guided reading provides a structure within which students exercise and extend their abilities to make use of available learning resources.
  • The Formative essay provides the opportunity for students to test their knowledge and understanding of the module content, and their ability to present and defend relevant arguments and theories, uninhibited by the need for summative assessment.
  • The summative essay tests knowledge and understanding of the course material, and the ability to identify and explain issues covered in the module, and, using relevant research material, to present different approaches to those issues, and make reasoned judgement on the merits and demerits of such approaches.
  • The unseen examination tests students' overall knowledge and understanding of the module content at the end of the module, and their ability to bring it to bear on new problems under pressure of time.
  • The theoretical, methodological and ethical issues taught in this module obtain at the intersection of economics and philosophy, which makes some familiarity with either discipline an essential prerequisite. Some familiarity with both would be a plus.

Teaching Methods and Learning Hours

Activity Number Frequency Duration Total/Hours
Lecture 22 1 per week 1 hour 22
Discussion groups 9 Fortnightly 1 hour 9
Preparation and reading 169
Total 200

Summative Assessment

Component: Examination Component Weighting: 60%
Element Length / duration Element Weighting Resit Opportunity
Written unseen examination 2 hours 100%
Component: Essay Component Weighting: 40%
Element Length / duration Element Weighting Resit Opportunity
One summative essay 2,500 words 100%

Formative Assessment:

One essay of 2,500 words

Attendance at all activities marked with this symbol will be monitored. Students who fail to attend these activities, or to complete the summative or formative assessment specified above, will be subject to the procedures defined in the University's General Regulation V, and may be required to leave the University