PPE Senior Seminar PPE 190, Fall 2009

Course Description

PPE 190 will replace PPE 160, Freedom, Markets, and Well-being, for the 2009–10 school year. Freedom, Markets, and Well-being will return in Fall 2011. That said, PPE 190 really is a replacement. It is pretty much the same course.

So why the different name and number? We thought it was important that Freedom, Markets, and Well-being should always be a team taught, multi-disciplinary seminar. For the upcoming school year, one member of the team will be on leave. So that’s why PPE 160 won’t be offered next year but PPE 190 will. PPE 190 is not designated as a team taught course. That’s the big reason for the switch.

PPE 190 will be very much the same as Freedom, Markets, and Well-being, with the following differences. First, it will only have one faculty member, me. Second, more time will be spent on developing individual thesis projects. There will be a syllabus and assigned readings, but there will be more space for student presentations and discussion of your research. If you’re curious about this course, the websites for last year’s edition of Freedom, Markets, and Well-being or the year before will give you a reasonable idea of how it will go.

Since PPE 190 is more directed at the senior thesis than PPE 160 the course is restricted to senior PPE majors at Pomona. I can admit people who do not meet those criteria, but you’ll have to explain why this would be a good fit for you.


This seminar is a capstone for senior majors in Philosophy, Politics, and Economics (PPE). One of its goal is to show how the three disciplinary components can all be brought to bear on a particular problem. This year, the problem is health care. The philosophical discussion of health care concerns questions about the nature of the good of health care and the proper role of the state in providing it. From economics, we will take up discussions of the nature of insurance, problems with markets in health care, and analyses of data about the US health system. Finally, we will discuss political explanations for the state of health care in the US and the prospects for changing it through legislation. Participants in the seminar should gain a thorough understanding of the fundamental issues behind the current push to reform the health care system in the US. In particular, they should have a broader understanding than they would get from a similar seminar restricted to a particular academic discipline.

The other goal for the seminar is to prepare to write a thesis during the spring term. Specifically, seminar participants will produce a prospectus. A prospectus is supposed to show that your thesis idea is worthy and feasible. It should explain the following: what your research topic is, how it spans your field of concentration and at least one other PPE field, why it is important, how you will tackle it, and what conclusions you might reach. It should include a bibliography that displays familiarity with the scholarship and methodological tools relevant to your topic. This should be annotated to explain the relevance of its entries to the project. A prospectus is typically between three and five pages long, not including the bibliography.

Class notes

  1. Monday, September 7. Williams on equality.
  2. Wednesday, September 9. Criticisms of medical egalitarianism. Updated September 10.
  3. Monday, September 14. Arrow on uncertainty and markets for medical care; class handout.
  4. Wednesday, September 16. Reinhardt on Arrow and efficiency; updated September 22.
  5. Monday, September 21. Dworkin on equality of resources; handout.
  6. Wednesday, September 23. Dworkin on health.
  7. Monday, September 28. Problems with preferences.
  8. Wednesday, September 30. Objective standards; handout.
  9. Wednesday, October 14. A few updates on the history lesson (posted October 24); handout: a short history of health care in the US.
  10. Wednesday, October 21. The uninsured; updated October 25.
  11. Monday, October 26. Doctors’ pay; updated October 27; class handout.
  12. Wednesday, October 28. Politics, broadly speaking; updated October 29.
  13. Monday, November 16. Proposals: single payer.
  14. Wednesday, November 18. Proposals: public option.
  15. Monday, November 23. Proposals: Cost and quality reforms.
  16. Monday, November 30. Proposals: market solutions; updated December 2.
  17. Wednesday, December 2. Proposals: do nothing for the sake of technology; class handout.
decorative leaf
PPE Senior Seminar