• Course Introduction

        • Time: 29 hours
        • Free Certificate
        This course provides an overview of the role ethical, moral, and cultural principles play in how lawmakers and public officials formulate and execute public policy.

        After studying the foundational theories of ethics and morality in politics, we review arguments about 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.

        • Course Syllabus

          First, read the course syllabus. Then, enroll in the course by clicking "Enroll me". 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 study ethical issues related to politics and governance. Ethics are the rules societies make to guide their individual and collective decision-making processes. 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 believe the U.S. founding fathers were highly moral, 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, such as certain types of lobbying, conflicts of interest, bribery, 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 and 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 and a 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 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 Ethical Analysis

          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: virtue ethics (Aristotle), Deontology (Immanuel Kant), Utilitarianism and the common good (John Stuart Mill), The Golden Rule, and the Fairness approach (Rawls). Each framework aims to identify problems, gather facts, and assess solutions, but the method for assessing the viability of available solutions differs.

          While policy makers 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 5 hours.

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

          In this unit, we examine different ethical dilemmas policy makers 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 7 hours.

        • Unit 4: Income Equality, Equal Employment, 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 governments 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, much public disagreement is due to a misunderstanding of the application of the policy and myths about affirmative action.

          Completing this unit should take you approximately 2 hours.

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

          Since ancient times, a recognized purpose of government has been to bind communities together and help citizens 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.

          Completing this unit should take you approximately 5 hours.

        • Unit 6: Policies Regarding Families and Personal Relationships

          Marital, personal, and family relationships are an area where policy makers 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?

          Completing this unit should take you approximately 2 hours.

        • Unit 7: National Security and Foreign Relations

          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.

          What are the justifications for war? Should we place ethical limits on practices of war and how we treat "the enemy"? For example, should we ban the use of chemical weapons, prohibit gross uses of military force, and forbid the use of torture? What do countries do when others fail to comply with the treaties they signed? What do domestic moral advocates do when the leaders of their own country fail to comply with these ethical guidelines?

          Should we allow women to serve in the military, granting them their individual right to serve their country as they wish, or should we impose limits on the roles they play in combat? What about transgender individuals?

          Next, we examine ethical issues that arise in foreign policy. What is America's ethical role in the world? Should it be the world's policeman and do we have an ethical 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? Finally, does the ethical rationale for military intervention supersede state sovereignty rights?

          Completing this unit should take you approximately 3 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.

        • 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.