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Political Theory and Public Policy

Some say that public policy can be made without the benefit of theory—that it emerges, instead, through trial-and-error. Others see genuine philosophical issues in public affairs but try to resolve them through fanciful examples. Both, argues Robert E. Goodin, are wrong.

Goodin—a political scientist who is also an associate editor of Ethics—shows that empirical and ethical theory can and should guide policy. To be useful, however, these philosophical discussions of public affairs must draw upon actual policy experiences rather than contrived cases. Further, they must reflect the broader social consequences of policies rather than just the dilemmas of personal conscience.

Effectively integrating the literatures of social science, policy science, and philosophy, Goodin provides a theoretically sophisticated yet empirically well-grounded analysis of public policies, the principles underlying them, the institutions shaping them, and the excuses offered for their failures. This analysis is enhanced by the author’s discussion of such specific cases as the disposal of nuclear wastes and the priority accorded national defense—cases that illustrate Goodin’s theoretical and methodological framework for approaching policy issues.

296 pages | 6.00 x 9.00 | © 1982

Political Science: Public Policy

Table of Contents

The Need for Theory
1. Theoretical Foundations for Policy Analysis
2. Anticipating Outcomes: Overcoming the Errors of Incrementalism
3. Anticipating Evaluations: Saving People from Their Former Selves
Principles and Institutions
4. Institutional Framework: Loose Laws
5. Moral Foundations: Choice and Dignity
6. Motivational Framework: Moral Incentives
7. Impossibility as an Excuse for Inaction
8. Risk as an Excuse for Maldistribution
9. Uncertainty as an Excuse for Myopia
10. The Ethics of Nuclear Power
11. The Priority of Defense
12. Lessons Learned

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