Ethics and Public Policy: A Philosophical Inquiry

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9780415668521: Ethics and Public Policy: A Philosophical Inquiry

Train crashes cause, on average, a handful of deaths each year in the UK. Technologies exist that would save the lives of some of those who die. Yet these technical innovations would cost hundreds of millions of pounds. Should we spend the money? How can we decide how to trade off life against financial cost? Such dilemmas make public policy is a battlefield of values, yet all too often we let technical experts decide the issues for us. Can philosophy help us make better decisions?

Ethics and Public Policy: A Philosophical Inquiry is the first book to subject important and controversial areas of public policy to philosophical scrutiny. Jonathan Wolff, a renowned philosopher and veteran of many public committees, such as the Gambling Review Body, introduces and assesses core problems and controversies in public policy from a philosophical standpoint. Each chapter is centred on an important area of public policy where there is considerable moral and political disagreement. Topics discussed include:

  • Can we defend inflicting suffering on animals in scientific experiments for human benefit?
  • What limits to gambling can be achieved through legislation?
  • What assumptions underlie drug policy? Can we justify punishing those who engage in actions that harm only themselves?
  • What is so bad about crime? What is the point of punishment?

Other chapters discuss health care, disability, safety and the free market. Throughout the book, fundamental questions for both philosopher and policy maker recur: what are the best methods for connecting philosophy and public policy? Should thinking about public policy be guided by an ‘an ideal world’ or the world we live in now? If there are ‘knock down’ arguments in philosophy why are there none in public policy?

Each chapter concludes with ‘Lessons for Philosophy’ making this book not only an ideal introduction for those coming to philosophy, ethics or public policy for the first time, but also a vital resource for anyone grappling with the moral complexity underlying policy debates.

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About the Author:

Jonathan Wolff is the Blavatnik Chair in Public Policy in association with Wolfson College, University of Oxford. He has been a member of the Nuffield Council of Bioethics, the Academy of Medical Science working party on Drug Futures, the Gambling Review Body and the Homicide Review Group. He is an external member of the Board of Science of the British Medical Association, and a Trustee of the Responsible Gambling Trust, for whom he chairs their research committee. He writes a monthly column on higher education for the Guardian.

Review:

Selected by The Philosopher's Magazine as one of 'The best books of 2012'.

'A first-class examination of where philosophy meets public policy by one of the leading political philosophers today. I have no doubt that this book will set a new benchmark for all future work, as well as offer a substantial contribution to policy analysis. I cannot recommend it highly enough.' - Thom Brooks, Durham University, UK

'Clearly, this is a book intended to be good to teach with - in relevant courses in applied ethics, social policy and healthcare - and accessible too to policy workers seeking a critical angle on their work. That it manages this while also enhancing our understanding of what is philosophically at stake is an impressive achievement. And that it does this while factoring in the process of policymaking - its possibilities, pitfalls and limits - makes it valuable in a different way again. I hope it marks the start of a thriving, long-term genre.' - Gideon Calder, Ethics and Social Welfare

'Wolff illustrates the importance for political philosophy of extensive, detailed knowledge of public policy issues for the development of good philosophy and effective contributions to urgent social issues. Wolff has extensive experience as a member of policy-making boards dealing with a wide range of issues: the treatment of animals in research, gambling, recreational drugs, public health funding, disabilities, and the cost of public safety. ... Summing Up: Recommended. Lower-level undergraduates and above.' - CHOICE

'Wolff's book will benefit anyone (student or professional) who wants to know more about how good moral philosophy can make a valuable contribution to decisions about public policy. It is worth remembering that Wolff's objectives are ones that we all have a stake in (if not as philosophers, then at least as potential victims of bad policy-making). Wolff is to be applauded for making a valuable contribution to progress in such important areas.' - Daniel Halliday, Notre Dame Philosophical Reviews

'This is the book we have been waiting for: a treatise on the ethics of public policy by a major political philosopher. An ideal text for a course on practical ethics, or on contemporary social problems: understandable but not at all dumbed-down.' - Daniel Wikler, Harvard University, USA

'Not only does Jonathan Wolff provide the invaluable service of helping us explore the ethical dimension of decision making through a historical and concrete understanding of specific policy dilemmas but he does so in a way which is authoritative, clear and engaging. This book is strongly recommended for putative decision makers who want to think and act wisely and for the philosophically-inclined wishing to test their ideas against the hard realities of policy making.' - Matthew Taylor, Chief Executive, RSA

'This book sets the bar for how moral philosophy can inform, and be informed by, public policy debates. It will be of great value to students interested in ethics, philosophy, political science, economics, and public policy as well as those with interests in the important social issues Wolff addresses.' – Debra Satz, Stanford University, USA

'Many books promise to introduce the reader to philosophy and ethics; very few do it with such wit, elegance, and intellectual honesty.' - Richard Ashcroft, Queen Mary University, UK

'A model contribution of political philosophy to the development of public policy - and, as importantly, of the practice of public policy to theory. Policy makers and philosophers will learn an enormous amount from reading it.' - Leslie Pickering Francis, University of Utah, USA

'A beautifully crafted, clear and concisely formulated survey of many controversial and pressing issues in public policy. Wolff’s writing conceals an apparently effortless command of a wealth of philosophical argument, and helps painlessly to steer the reader through complex material.' - David Archard, Lancaster University, UK

'Written with his customary clarity, elegance, and intelligence, Jo Wolff’s excellent new book sheds some much needed light on the under-explored connections between applied ethics and public policy. It will be of real interest to anyone with even a passing interest in these issues.' - Gerald Lang, University of Leeds, UK

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