• Course Introduction

        • Time: 87 hours
        • Free Certificate
        This course provides an overview of the role ethical, cultural, religious, and moral principles play in how lawmakers and other public officials formulate and execute public policy.

        After studying the foundational theories of ethics and morality in politics, we review arguments about existing issues in domestic and international policy from a variety of perspectives. Common themes 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, fairness and justice approach, and rights approach.

        When executing public policy, it is impossible to avoid harming others. Public policy often requires a redistribution of resources, denial of rights or privileges, or promotion of one group at the expense of another. We use decision-making frameworks to help balance competing interests to make the best decision, or the one that causes the least amount of pain. We examine five types of decision frameworks used to make and implement public policy, and rationales used to justify inequitable impact and outcomes of policies.

        First, read the course syllabus. Then, enroll in the course by clicking "Enroll me in this course". Click Unit 1 to read its introduction and learning outcomes. You will then see the learning materials and instructions on how to use them.

      • Unit 1: The Role of Ethics and Morality in Politics

        In this unit, we begin studying ethics in politics and governance. Ethics are rules that guide the decision-making process. These rules are rooted in religion, morality, law, education, experience, and human strengths and weaknesses. We explore several definitions of ethics and learn how the ethics of our leaders have evolved over time. For example, while most of us believe the U.S. founding fathers are highly moral men, most were slave owners. We frequently consider the actions previous generations and leaders supported to be unethical, due to evolving cultural norms and societal mores.

        In the United States, federal and state government employees are subject to formal ethical codes to mitigate the damage of improper political activities, lobbying, conflicts of interest, bribery, graft, spoils, and nepotism. Our executive and legislative branches of government employ agencies and officials to investigate allegations of breaches of ethical codes by politicians, federal employees or other officials. Punishment for these violations is often tinged with political overtones. Officials may be censured or impeached. Employees may receive disciplinary action ranging from counseling to termination.

        Ethics in international affairs can be complicated. National security concerns or lack of resources can trump a leader's stated desire to "do the right thing". However, from a purely pragmatic standpoint, economic and social injustice abroad can also impact our national security. For example, we now see the role the disintegration of Afghanistan into a failed state played in the events of Sept. 11, 2001.

        Completing this unit should take you approximately 5 hours.

      • Unit 2: Theoretical Frameworks for Analyses of Ethical Dilemmas

        In this unit, we examine classical and contemporary theories of ethics, and the frameworks decision makers use to resolve ethical dilemmas. Five primary frameworks include: the common good, fairness or justice, utilitarian, rights, and virtue approaches. Each framework aims to identify problems, gather facts, and assess solutions, but the method for assessing the viability of available solutions differs.

        While policymakers prefer certain approaches to problem solving, one approach may not be appropriate or feasible for all of the dilemmas they face. They need to know how to apply a variety of approaches to a given situation.

        Completing this unit should take you approximately 11 hours.

      • Unit 3: Individual Liberty, Public Safety, and Justice

        In this unit, we examine different ethical dilemmas policymakers face in the areas of individual liberties, public safety, and criminal justice. We focus on the rights we find in the U.S. Constitution, such as the protection of speech and political acts under the First Amendment, the right to bear arms under the Second Amendment, punishment of felons, and issues involving drugs and illegal immigration.

        We examine responses to the questions: How do we balance individual rights with the security needs of the state? Where do the rights of individuals end and the rights of society as a whole begin?

        We use the five frameworks we discussed in Unit 2 to examine each of these questions. We explore the frameworks lawmakers, judges, and officials tend to apply to different types of issues and circumstances. Understanding how to approach and resolve these ethical questions in practice is important for students of political science and public policy. It is also essential knowledge for those planning to enter the legal, public service, and lobbying professions.

        Completing this unit should take you approximately 13 hours.

      • Unit 4: Income Taxation, EEO Compliance, and Affirmative Action

        In this unit, we examine three controversial areas of public policy, where the government intentionally treats groups of people differently to promote the common good. Since 1916, the federal government has taxed the income of citizens, residents, and anyone present in the United States and its sovereign territories. Most states and a few cities also impose income taxes. Critics claim the income tax system is grossly unfair. The basis for this claim depends on the group being examined.

        Equal Employment Opportunity (EEO) laws, such as the Civil Rights Act of 1964, the Americans with Disabilities Act, and the Age Discrimination in Employment Act seek to ensure barriers to employment and advancement are not based on race, national origin, disability, gender, religion, age, or family status. If these policies are not economically neutral, how do we assess claims of fairness against claims of economic efficiency?

        What is the ethical justification for treating individuals differently in certain circumstances? What gives government the right to tell businesses how to operate, or how they choose, hire, and discipline their employees?

        Critics complain that affirmative action programs give preferential treatment to certain groups, to the detriment of others. Others argue these programs intend to remedy past systemic discriminatory practices. While we have seen abuses and injustices in the system, public disagreement is due to a misunderstanding of the application of the policy and myths about affirmative action.

        Again, we use the five frameworks we discussed in Unit 2 to examine these questions.

        Completing this unit should take you approximately 11 hours.

      • Unit 5: Care for the Poor, Sick, Elderly, and Infirm

        Since ancient times, one of the recognized purposes of government has been to bind communities together and help care for one another. In this unit, we examine government policies that seek to provide benefits for the poor, sick, elderly, and infirm.

        How do lawmakers and officials justify taking from some in the form of taxes to give to those who need assistance? What are the ethical and legal limitations on such programs? These questions form the basis for inquiry in this unit.

        Again, we use the five frameworks we discussed in Unit 2 to examine these social welfare questions.

        Completing this unit should take you approximately 7 hours.

      • Unit 6: Issues Involving Families and Relationships

        Marital, personal, and family relationships are an area where policymakers and officials often have to make controversial ethical and legal decisions.

        Should we allow consenting adults to engage in sexual or marital relationships with whomever they choose? What limits should the government place on these relationships? Whose interests are paramount in family relationships, those of the child or those of the parents and grandparents? What limits should the government place on procreation, contraception, and abortion?

        Again, we use the five frameworks we discussed in Unit 2 to examine these questions.

        Completing this unit should take you approximately 6 hours.

      • Unit 7: National Security

        We begin this unit by exploring legal and ethical issues that arise during conventional conflicts, such as war. Next we examine legal and ethical issues that arise during nonconventional conflicts, such as espionage and terrorism. Finally, we explore the composition of military forces.

        What are the justifications for war? Should we place any limits on war? How should we treat "the enemy"? Should we allow women to serve in the military? Should we impose limits on the roles women play in combat? Should sexual preference play any role in military recruitment or retention?

        Again, we use the five frameworks we discussed in Unit 2 to examine these questions.

        Completing this unit should take you approximately 9 hours.

      • Unit 8: Foreign Relations, Foreign Trade, Foreign Aid, and Military Intervention

        In this unit, we examine ethical issues that arise in foreign policy.

        What is America's ethical role in the world? Should we be the world's policeman? Do we have a duty to act multilaterally or unilaterally? If so, under what circumstances? What is America's duty to care for the poor, sick, or infirm outside of our borders? Should we place legal and ethical constraints on international trade? How do we balance moral obligations with national security realities and global financial realities?

        Again, we use the five frameworks we discussed in Unit 2 to examine these questions.

        Completing this unit should take you approximately 8 hours.

      • Unit 9: Science, Technology, and Commerce

        In this unit, we examine the role ethics play when leaders make policy, laws, and regulations in the areas of science, technology, and commerce.

        Should the government engage in corporate social welfare, or allow the free market to choose commercial winners and losers? Should the government only impose commercial regulations that do not burden the free flow of goods and services in our economy? Should we place limits on medical research or cloning of foodstuffs? How do we balance individual bodily autonomy with the need to protect the public from the spread of infection and disease? How should we balance individual privacy rights online with security and public safety concerns?

        Again we use the five frameworks we discussed in Unit 2 to examine these questions.

        Completing this unit should take you approximately 10 hours.

      • Unit 10: Daily Operations of Government, Lobbying, Campaigns and Elections

        In this final unit, we examine common ethical dilemmas public servants and officials face in their daily work, and issues specific to campaigns and elections.

        Should we place any restrictions on acceptance of gifts and favors? What duties and responsibilities do public servants and officials owe citizens? What is the best way to investigate ethical issues and enforce ethical regulations? Should we place any restrictions on donations to political campaigns and efforts to lobby policymakers?

        Again, we use the five frameworks we discussed in Unit 2 to examine these questions.

        Completing this unit should take you approximately 7 hours.

      • Study Guide

        This study guide will help you get ready for the final exam. It discusses the key topics in each unit, walks through the learning outcomes, and lists important vocabulary terms. It is not meant to replace the course materials!

      • Course Feedback Survey

        Please take a few minutes to give us feedback about this course. We appreciate your feedback, whether you completed the whole course or even just a few resources. Your feedback will help us make our courses better, and we use your feedback each time we make updates to our courses.

        If you come across any urgent problems, email contact@saylor.org or post in our discussion forum.

      • Certificate Final Exam

        Take this exam if you want to earn a free Course Completion Certificate.

        To receive a free Course Completion Certificate, you will need to earn a grade of 70% or higher on this final exam. Your grade for the exam will be calculated as soon as you complete it. If you do not pass the exam on your first try, you can take it again as many times as you want, with a 7-day waiting period between each attempt.

        Once you pass this final exam, you will be awarded a free Course Completion Certificate.