Atlas111M Ethics

… a half-course module within the core Atlas Courses

ethics2Atlas module syllabus

This six-topic Atlas module syllabus covers the core topics and concepts in the public management subject of Ethics, Rights, and Accountability. It prepares students to address ethical dilemmas and difficult public management issues that have no easy solutions, no right or wrong answers in order to conduct their work effectively and fairly. It centers on the dynamic relationships between public professionals and the people, organizations, and society they serve.

Learning outcomes

On successful completion of this module students will have the skills and knowledge to be able to apply ethical reasoning to public management problems by appropriately utilizing the theories and principles in the topics and concepts noted below.

Normed topics

The topics are normed in having a volume of content capable of being taught in one course-week of instruction − nominally 3 hours of in-class work and 7 hours of outside-class reading.

  1. The Study of Ethics in Public Policy and Management
  2. Moral Philosophy and Political Philosophy
  3. Ends, Means, and Cost-Benefit Analysis
  4. Paternalism and the Welfare State
  5. Human Rights, Liberty and Limits
  6. Responsibility and Accountability

Like other normed topics on the Atlas, each of these has a topic description, links to core concepts relevant to the topic, learning outcomes, a reading list drawn from available course syllabi, and a series of assessment questions.

Concepts to be learned
(listed alphabetically under topics)

The Study of Ethics in Public Policy and Management

Framing Effect

Ideas in Good Currency


Moral Philosophy and Political Philosophy

Liberal Democracy


Ends, Means, and Cost-Benefit Analysis

Dirty Hands

The Means and Ends Dilemma

Paternalism and the Welfare State


Fiduciary Duty

Legitimate Coercion

Procedural Fairness

Human Rights, Liberty and Limits

Pluralist State

Rights Talk

Social Diversity Thesis

Responsibility and Accountability

Abuse of Authority


Accountability Framework


Delegation Matrix

Delegation of Authority

Due Diligence

Management Accountability Framework

Thompson’s Three Models of Public Sector Accountability

Course syllabi sources

Harvard DPI201 The Responsibilities of Public Action, USC (Price): PPD-667; Michigan (Ford): Pub Pol 580; Toronto: PPG-2022 & PPG-2011

Recommended readings

NOTE: Readings from open access sources will be developed

TEMPORARY ANNEX: Recommended readings from MPP and MPA courses

Week 1: Ethics in Public Management


Moore, Mark H. “Realms of Obligation and Virtue.” In Public Duties: The Moral Obligations of Government Officials, by Joel L. Fleishman, Lance Liebman and Mark H. Moore, 3-31. Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1981.

Kernaghan, K., & Langford, J. W. (1990). The responsible public servant. Hallifax: Institute for Research on Public Policy. Chapter 1 (Pg. 9-32).

Brady, F. Neil. “Feeling and Understanding: A Moral Psychology for Public Servants.” Southern Review of Public Administration 7, no. 2 (1983): 220-240.

Lilla, Mark T. “Ethos, “Ethics,” and Public Service.” Public Interest, no. 63 (1981): 3-17.

Cooper, T. L., 2012. The Responsible Administrator: An Approach to Ethics for the Administrative Role. 6ed. CA: Jossey-Bass. Chapter 1


Geuras, D. and Garofalo, C., 2011. Practical Ethics in Public Administration. 3ed. Vienna, VA: Management Concepts: Chapters 1 and 2.

John Langford and Allan Tupper, “How Ottawa Does Business: Ethics as a Government Program,” in G. Bruce Doern (ed.), How Ottawa Spends 2006-2007: In from the Cold, The Tory Rise and the Liberal Demise. Montreal and Kingston: McGill-Queen’s University Press, 2006, 116-137.

Kenneth Kernaghan, “Encouraging ‘Rightdoing’ and Discouraging Wrongdoing: A Public Service Charter and Disclosure Legislation,” Commission, Research Studies, Volume 2, 71-114.

Demetrios Argyrides, “Good Governance, Professionalism, Ethics and Responsibility,” International Review of Administrative Sciences, 72, 2 (June 2006), 155-70.

Herman Bakvis and Luc Juillet, The Horizontal Challenge: Line Departments, Central Agencies and Leadership. Canada School of Public Service, 2004. http://www.myschool-

Jacques Bourgault, “Corporate Management at the Top Level of Governments: the Canadian Case,” International Review of Administrative Sciences, 73, 2, June 2007, 257-274.

Lewis, C. W. (2008). Ethical norms in public service: a framework for analysis.Ethics and Integrity of Governance: Perspectives across Frontiers, ed. by Leo WJC Huberts, Jeroen Maesschalck, and Carole L. Jurkiewicz, United Kingdom: Edward Elgar, 44-64.

Van Wart, M. (1998). Changing Public Sector Values. New York: Taylor and Francis Group, 1998. Chapter 1 (Pg. 3-32).

Martin Wachs, “Ethics and Advocacy in Forecasting for Public Policy,” Business and Professional Ethics Journal 9 (1990): 141-56

Jan Blustein, “Toward a More Public Discussion of the Ethics of Federal Social Program Evaluation,” Journal of Policy Analysis and Management 24 (2005): 824-46.

Week 2: Implementation and Accountability

Geuras, D. and Garofalo, C., 2011. Practical Ethics in Public Administration. 3ed. Vienna, VA: Management Concepts: Chapter 12 (Perspectives on Contemporary Reform) – Chapters 13 (Ethics, Quality & Performance).

Savoie, Donald J., Court Government and the Collapse of Accountability: in Canada and the United Kingdom (Toronto: UofT Press, 2008). Chapter 11 (Accountability: ‘I take the blame, but I am not to blame’) – 12 (Power: Locating it and Holding it to Account)

Paul G. Thomas, “Why is Performance-Based Accountability So Popular in Theory and So Difficult in Practice?”, in KPMG Holy Grail or Achievable Quest: International Perspectives on Public Sector Performance Management. 169-187. 2008.

Edgar, Laura, Claire Marshall and Michael Bassett, ‘Partnerships: Putting Good Governance Principles in Practice’, Institute on Governance, 2006.

Tuohy, Carolyn, ‘Partnering for Public Purpose – New Modes of Accountability for New Modes of Governance’, a paper prepared for the Symposium on Partnering for Public Purpose, School of Public Policy and Governance, University of Toronto, November 22, 2006. In The Report of the Independent Blue Ribbon Panel on Grant and Contribution Programs, Treasury Board of Canada Secretariat, 81-90. At (accessed 21 February 2013) and downloaded pdf.

Posner, P. L. (2002). Accountability challenges of third party governance. The Tools of Government, Oxford University Press, New York, United States.

Eliadis, P., Hill, M. M., & Howlett, M. (2005). Designing government: from instruments to governance. McGill-Queen’s Press-MQUP. Introduction (6-14.)

Laurin, C., and Wagner, S., ‘Implementing “new public management”: the case of employment services in Quebec’, Canadian Public Administration, March 2011, pp.23-39.

Chan, H. S., & Rosenbloom, D. H. (2010). Four challenges to accountability in contemporary public administration: Lessons from the United States and China.Administration & Society.

Considine, M. (2002). The end of the line? Accountable governance in the age of networks, partnerships, and joined‐up services. Governance15(1), 21-40.

Devas, N., & Grant, U. (2003). Local government decision-making-citizen participation and local accountability: Some evidence from Kenya and Uganda.Public Administration and development23(4), 307-316.

Week 3: Means and Ends: The Problem of Dirty Hands

Michael Walzer, “Political Action: The Problem of Dirty Hands,” Philosophy and Public Affairs 2 (Winter, 1973), 160-80.

Arthur Isak Applbaum “Professional detachment: The executioner of Paris,” Harvard Law Review, 109 (1995), 458–486

Thomson, J. J. (1976). Killing, letting die, and the trolley problem. The Monist,59(2), 204-217.

French, Peter A. 1983. “Dirty Hands” In Ethics in Government. Englewood Cliffs: Prentice-Hall. Chapter 2 (Dirty Hands).

Sandford Borins, “Loose Cannons and Rule Breakers or Enterprising Leaders?: Some Evidence about Innovative Public Managers,” Public Administration Review, 60 (Nov/Dec 2006), 6, 498- 507.

Dobel, J. P. Public Integrity. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1999. Chapter 5 (Staying in: The Ethics of Commitment in Office) – Chapter 6 (Getting Out: The Ethics of Resigning from Office)

Cooper, T. L., 2012. The Responsible Administrator: An Approach to Ethics for the Administrative Role. 6ed. CA: Jossey-Bass. Chapter 5 (Conflicts of Responsibility).

Week 4: Liberty and Its Limits: Speech, Harm, Paternalism and Moralism

Frederick Schauer, “The Phenomenology of Speech and Harm,” Ethics 103:4 (1993), pp 635-653.

Home Secretary of the United Kingdom, “Exclusion or Deportation from the UK on Non-Conducive Grounds: Consultation Document” (August 2005).

Dennis Thompson, “Paternalistic Power,” in Political Ethics and Public Office (1987), pp 148-177.

Daniel Hausman and Brynn Welch, “Debate: To Nudge or Not to Nudge,” Journal of Political Philosophy 18:1 (2010), 123-136

Bertot, J. C., Jaeger, P. T., & Grimes, J. M. (2010). Using ICTs to create a culture of transparency: E-government and social media as openness and anticorruption tools for societies. Government Information Quarterly, 27(3), 264-271.

Adams, B. (2004). Public meetings and the democratic process. Public Administration Review, 43-54.

Hermann Haberman, “Ethics Confidentiality, and Data Dissemination,” U.S. Census Bureau White Paper, n.d. [2004], 1-14.

Week 5: Lying, Deception, Privacy and Transparency

Dennis Thompson, “Democratic Secrecy,” Political Science Quarterly (Summer 1999), 181-193

Alasdair Roberts, “Secrecy and Security,” Ch. 2 of Blacked Out: Government Secrecy in the Information Age (Cambridge University Press, 2008), 27-50

Case: “International Transparency,” Ch. 6 of Archon Fung, Mary Graham, and David Weil, Full Disclosure: The Perils and Promise of Transparency (Cambridge University Press, 2008), 127-150

Bok, Sissela. Lying: Moral Choice in Public and Private Life. New York: Vintage Books, 1979. Chpater 1 (IS the “Whole Truth” Attainable?) & Chpter 12 (Lies for the Public Good).

Warwick, Donald P. “The Ethics of Administrative Discretion.” In Public Duties: The Moral Obligations of Government Officials, by Joel L. Fleishman, Lance Liebman and Mark H. Moore, 93-127. Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1981.

Leone, Roberto and Frank Ohemeng. Approaching Public Administration: Core Debates and Emerging Issues (Toronto: Edmond-Montgomery, 2011). Chapter 8 (Should whistleblowing be encouraged in the public sector?)

Terrance McConnell, “Whistle-Blowing,” in A Companion to Applied Ethics, ed. R. G. Frey and Christopher Health Wellman (2003), 570-82.

Glenn Greenwald, Ewen MacAskill, and Laura Poitras, “Edward Snowden: The Whistleblower Behind the NSA Surveillance Revelations,” The Guardian, June 9, 2013.

Fred Kaplan, “Why Snowden Won’t (and Shouldn’t) Get Clemency,” Slate (2013).

Svara, James H. 2014. The Ethics Primer for Public Administrators in Government and Nonprofit Organizations, 2nd edition. Sudbury, MA: Jones & Bartlett. Chapter 8 (Acting on Duty in the Face of Uncertainty and Risk: Responsible Whistleblowing)

Week 6: Compromise and Disagreement

Amy Gutmann and Dennis Thompson, “The Mindsets of Political Compromise,” Perspectives on Politics 8 (2010), 1125-1143

Avishai Margalit, “Compromise and Political Necessity,” Ch. 4 of On Compromise and Rotten Compromises (Princeton University Press, 2009), 90-120

Simon Cabuela May, “Principled Compromise and the Abortion Controversy” Philosophy and Public Affairs 33 (Fall, 2005), 317-348

Dobel, J. P. Public Integrity. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1999. Chapter 3 (Moral Realities of Public Life) – 4 (Character & Moral attrition)

Svara, James H. 2014. The Ethics Primer for Public Administrators in Government and Nonprofit Organizations, 2nd edition. Sudbury, MA: Jones & Bartlett. Chapter 7 (Deciding How to Meet Obligations and Act Responsibly: Ethical Analysis and Problem Solving); Chapter 9 (Elevating Ethical Behaviour in the Organization).

Young, Mark. “Sharks, saints, and samurai: the power of ethics in negotiations.” Negotiation Journal 24, no. 2 (2008): 145-155.

Thompson, D. F. (1987). Political ethics and public office. Harvard University Press. Chapter Four

Amy Gutmann and Dennis Thompson, “The Value of Compromise,” (Chapter 1) In Gutmann, A., & Thompson, D. F. (2014). The spirit of compromise: Why governing demands it and campaigning undermines it. Princeton University Press.

Richard Weisberg, “The Politics of Compromise,” (Chapter 2) of Weisberg, R. H. (2014). In Praise of Intransigence: The Perils of Flexibility. Oxford University Press.

Sample Assessment Questions:

1a) What are whistleblower protection rules? Why do these rules exist, and why are they important? 1b) What is a conflict of interest? What is an apparent conflict of interest?

2a) What is a management accountability framework? What are the key characteristics of a strong accountability framework? 2b) What are Thompson’s three models of public sector accountability? 2c) The increasing reliance on partnerships between governments and extra-governmental actors to execute policy has implications for democratic responsibility. Discuss the challenges, and possible strategies to mange those challenges in a two page response.

3a) Imagine that you are an advisor to Prime Minister Trudeau during the October Crisis. Write a two-page memo to the Prime Minister either in support of or in opposition to the use of the War Measures Act.

4a) Thaler and Sunstein coined the term “libertarian paternalism,” what did they mean by this concept? Identify one policy action taken by any government that conforms to the principles of “libertarian paternalism.”

5a) Under what circumstances is government justified in withholding information from the general public?

6a) According to Gutmann and Thompson, why is political compromise difficult “even though no one doubts it is necessary?”

Page created by: James Ban on 23 July 2015 and edited for the new Atlas by Ian Clark,  last updated on 1 June 2016.

Image:, at, accessed 11 March 2016.