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Philosophy of Law, Governance, and Politics: Topics


Admission requirements

Admission to one of the following programmes is required:

  • MA Philosophy 120 EC: specialisation Philosophy of Law, Governance, and Politics

  • MA Philosophy 60 EC: specialisation Moral and Political Philosophy


This year, the specialization course Philosophy of Law, Governance, and Politics is dedicated to the philosophy of governance. While often overlooked in the philosophical reflection on our political systems and their institutions, governance has gained incredibly in importance since the 19th century. Contemporary liberal democracies with their elaborate fiscal systems and welfare arrangements employ a huge apparatus, i.e., the public administration, to implement the various policies, laws, and other political decisions that are enacted. The traditional image is that it is ‘just’ the executive, but modern administration is also where most political decisions are prepared. The sheer size, as well as the various areas of policy formation (and not just execution), have given rise to a great number of philosophical conundrums when thinking about governance. Even this framing in terms of governance reflects something ‘in between’ or next to, the traditional three legal or political state powers (the legislative, the executive and the judiciary).

In this course, we will survey a number of the issues that come up when thinking about the underlying normative and systematic principles of governance, such as what standards for good governance to apply; the question as to how civil servants should promote the public good; the role of efficiency in democratic governance; cost-benefit-analysis as a tool for policy evaluation; administrative discretion and the rule of law; the tension between paternalist concerns and the protection of individual autonomy; and, the antagonism between democracy and bureaucracy. We will not restrict ourselves to contemporary systematic sources but will also have a look at historical developments and authors.

Course objectives

This course aims to provide students with insight into the nature of governance equip them for philosophical reflection on law, governance, and politics.

Students who successfully complete the course will have a good understanding of:

  • contemporary debates about the role of public administration in general;

  • theories of efficiency, neutrality, discretion, the rule of law, paternalism, democray, and bureaucray;

  • the standard critiques of these theories.

Students who successfully complete the course will be able to:

  • present this knowledge in written form (essay);

  • recognize the main ideas of theories of authority and use these in argument (use the knowledge actively in argumentation and discussion);

  • present their take on these theories in oral form;

  • formulate critical responses to philosophical arguments and positions about governance;

  • write a coherent argumentative text within limited time.


The timetables are available through My Timetable.

Mode of instruction

  • Seminars

Class attendance is required.

Assessment method


  • All participants write at least 10 weekly reading responses (30%).

  • All participants complete the practical assignments (mandatory).

  • Presence and active participation (mandatory).

  • All participants submit a draft of their final paper to be peer reviewed by others (mandatory).

  • All participants provide a constructive peer review for two papers (10%).

  • A final essay of 3000 words (60%).


The final mark for the course is established by determination of the weighted average of the subtests (see above).


The resit will consist of an essay of 3000 words that will replace the result of the final essay. The results of the other parts of the assessment will not be replaced.
The weekly assignments, the peer reviews, as well as the final paper will receive feedback and grades through BrightSpace and TurnItIn. Attendance will be tracked using BrightSpace as well

Inspection and feedback

How and when an exam review will take place will be disclosed together with the publication of the exam results at the latest. If a student requests a review within 30 days after publication of the exam results, an exam review will have to be organized.

Reading list

  • Heath, Joseph. n.d. The Machinery of Government: Public Administration and the Liberal State. The Machinery of Government. Oxford University Press. (Available as e-book through the library).

  • Secondary literature to be made available through Brightspace.


Enrolment through uSis is mandatory.
General information about uSis is available on the website

Registration Studeren à la carte and Contractonderwijs

Not applicable.


  • For substantive questions, contact the lecturer listed in the information bar at the right hand side of the page.

  • For questions about enrolment, admission, etc., contact the Education Administration Office Huizinga


Not applicable.