• Class Number 4360
  • Term Code 2930
  • Class Info
  • Unit Value 6 units
  • Mode of Delivery In Person
    • Dr Chad Lee-Stronach
  • Class Dates
  • Class Start Date 25/02/2019
  • Class End Date 31/05/2019
  • Census Date 31/03/2019
  • Last Date to Enrol 04/03/2019
    • Timothy Williamson
SELT Survey Results

This course examines what it means to be 'rational' in negotiating the world and conducting one's life. At issue is the quality of one’s beliefs, desires and choices about how to act, particularly in the face of uncertainty, and in concert with others.

Part I is a critical examination of the standard theory of individual rationality - expected utility theory – that unites and explicates the aforementioned key mental attitudes. This theory stems from the classic work of philosophers/social scientists such as Ramsey, de Finetti and Savage. Contemporary challenges to the standard theory come from diverse directions, with some arguing that the theory is too little constrained and even vacuous, others arguing that it is too rigid, either in its prescriptions for representing and handling uncertainty or else by virtue of being in conflict with some prominent ethical accounts of right action, and yet others arguing that it gives outright bad advice in various special cases. The course considers these challenges to the standard theory and the responses/developments they have inspired.

Part II turns to rationality in a social context. The initial focus is the theory of games, applicable to cases where what an individual should do depends on what others do, and vice versa. Standard solution concepts for games are introduced, and the collective-action problems that may arise, including possibilities for their resolution, are considered, with an eye to the ethical significance of these scenarios. Finally, the course turns to group choice proper, where individuals effectively join forces and act as a single entity. Here the starting point for investigation is Arrow’s theorem regarding the (im)possibility of an adequate group aggregation of individual attitudes; this invites examination of Arrow’s assumptions, and raises further questions regarding interpersonal comparability and the plausibility of Utilitarianism and other aggregative solutions. 

Learning Outcomes

Upon successful completion, students will have the knowledge and skills to:

Upon successful completion of this course, students will have the knowledge and skills to:

  1. Understand and articulate key philosophical issues pertaining to rational choice and inference, both for individuals and groups
  2. Engage with and critically evaluate (in essay form) formal and discursive material relevant to individual, game and social choice theory
  3. Engage in well-reasoned, justified and articulate discussion and debate.

Research-Led Teaching

This course aligns with the research interests of the convenor/lecturer and is thus informed by contemporary research in rational choice, ethics, and social and political philosophy. The course covers standard theory of individual and social choice, but also introduces students to ‘live’ controversies and challenges to the standard theory.

Staff Feedback

Students will be given feedback in the following forms in this course:

  • Graded Reading Responses
  • Graded essays with written comments
  • Verbal group feedback on mid-semester assessments
  • Written answers to tutorial exercises where applicable
  • Verbal responses to comments in tutorial discussions
  • Opportunity for further discussion in office hours

Student Feedback

ANU is committed to the demonstration of educational excellence and regularly seeks feedback from students. Students are encouraged to offer feedback directly to their Course Convener or through their College and Course representatives (if applicable). The feedback given in these surveys is anonymous and provides the Colleges, University Education Committee and Academic Board with opportunities to recognise excellent teaching, and opportunities for improvement. The Surveys and Evaluation website provides more information on student surveys at ANU and reports on the feedback provided on ANU courses.

Other Information

Other referencing requirements:

Any recognised referencing style is acceptable. Essays should also include a bibliography.


Assessment items will be marked according to the university grading scheme. See the guidance on word limits. Note that cases of plagiarism are treated seriously and may result in penalties.

Class Schedule

Week/Session Summary of Activities Assessment
1 Part I: Individual Rationality Modelling Individual Rationality Readings Michael D. Resnik, Choices: An Introduction to Decision Theory (London: University of Minnesota Press, 1987), ch. 4 R.A. Briggs, "Normative Theories of Rational Choice: Expected Utility Theory", 2014, http://plato.stanford. edu/entries/rationality-normative-utility/ Recommended Lara Buchak, “Decision Theory,” chap. 36 in Oxford Handbook of Philosophy and Probability, ed. Alan Hájek and Christopher Hitchcock (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2016), 789–814 Frank P Ramsey, “Truth and Probability,” chap. 7 in The Foundations of Mathematics and other Logical Essays, ed. R. B. Braithwaite, 1926 (New York: Harcourt, Brace / Company, 1926), 156–198
2 Part I: Individual Rationality Criticisms of Expected Utility Theory Assessment Reading Response 1 - Friday 8 March Readings Larry Temkin, “Expected Utility Theory/Expected Value Theory,” chap. 8 in Rethinking the Good (Oxford; New York: Oxford University Press, 2012) Recommended: John Broome, “Expected Utility and Rationality,” chap. 5 in Weighing Goods (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1991), 90–120 Lara Buchak, Risk and Rationality (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2013), ch. 1
3 Part I: Individual Rationality Ethics and Expected Utility Theory Readings Frank Jackson and Michael Smith, “Absolutist Moral Theories and Uncertainty,” The Journal of Philosophy 103, no. 6 (2006): 267–283 Ron Aboodi, Adi Borer, and David Enoch, “Deontology, Individualism, and Uncertainty: A Reply to Jackson and Smith,” The Journal of Philosophy 105, no. 2 (2008): 259–272 Recommended: Mark Colyvan, Damian Cox, and Katie Steele, “Modelling the Moral Dimension of Decisions,” Noûs 44, no. 3 (September 2010): 503–529
4 Part II: Ranking Social Outcomes Social Choice Assessment Reading Response 2 - Friday 22 March Readings Kenneth J. Arrow, Social Choice and Individual Values (New York; London: Wiley & Sons; Chapman & Hall, Limited, 1951), ch. 2 ibid., ch. 3 Recommended: Resnik, Choices: An Introduction to Decision Theory, pp. 177-196 Matthias Risse, “Arrow’s Theorem, Indeterminacy, and Multiplicity Reconsidered,” Ethics 111, no. 4 (2001): 706–734
5 Part II: Ranking Social Outcomes Interpersonal Comparisons of Utility Readings Paul Weirich, “Interpersonal Utility in Principles of Social Choice,” Erkenntnis 21, no. 1977 (1984): 295–317 Recommended: Christian List, “Are Interpersonal Comparisons of Utility Indeterminate?,” Erkenntnis 58, no. 2 (2003): 229–260 Amartya Sen, Collective Choice and Social Welfare (Penguin Books, 1970), ch. 7
6 Part II: Ranking Social Outcomes Utilitarianism Assessment Reading Response 3 - Friday 5 April Readings John C. Harsanyi, “Cardinal Welfare, Individualistic Ethics, and Interpersonal Comparisons of Utility,” Journal of Political Economy 63, no. 4 (1955): 309–321 John C. Harsanyi, “Cardinal Utility in Welfare Economics and in the Theory of Risk-taking,” Journal of Political Economy 61, no. 5 (1953): 434-435 Recommended: Resnik, Choices: An Introduction to Decision Theory, pp. 196-205 Hilary Greaves and Harvey Lederman, “Extended Preferences and Interpersonal Comparisons of Wellbeing,” Philosophy and Phenomenological Research 96, no. 3 (2016): 636–667 John Rawls, Justice as Fairness: A Restatement, ed. Erin Kelly (Cambridge, Massachusetts and London, England: Harvard University Press, 2001), Part 3
7 Part II: Ranking Social Outcomes Distributive Justice Assessment Essay 1 - Thursday 18 April Readings Larry S. Temkin, Inequality (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1993), ch. 2 Peter A. Diamond, “Cardinal Welfare, Individualistic Ethics, and Interpersonal Comparison of Utility: Com- ment,” Journal of Political Economy 75, no. 5 (1967): 765–766 Recommended Derek Parfit, “Equality or Priority?,” in The Ideal of Equality, ed. Matthew Clayton and Andrew Williams (Basingstoke: Palgrave, 2000), 81–125 Marc Fleurbaey, “Equality Versus Priority: How Relevant Is the Distinction?,” Economics and Philosophy 31, no. 02 (2015): 203–217
8 Part III: Achieving Social Outcomes Collective Action Problems Assessment Reading Response 4 - Friday 3 May Readings Garrett Hardin, “The Tragedy of the Commons,” Science 162, no. June (1968): 1243–1248 Thomas Dietz, Elinor Ostrom, and Paul C. Stern, “The Struggle to Govern the Commons,” Science 302, no. 5652 (2003): 1907–1912 Cristina Bichierri and Ryan Muldoon, Social Norms, 2014, https://plato.stanford.edu/entries/social- norms/ Optional Stephen M. Gardiner, “The Real Tragedy of the Commons,” Philosophy and Public Affairs 30, no. 4 (2002): 387–416 Brennan, G., Eriksson, L., Goodin, R., and Southwood, N. (2013). ’Patterns of Emergence, Persistence, and Change’, Chapter 5 of Explaining Norms. New York: Oxford University Press.
9 Part III: Achieving Social Outcomes Bargaining Problems Readings John Nash, “The Bargaining Problem,” Econometrica 18, no. 2 (1950): 155–162 John Nash, “Two-Person Cooperative Games,” Econometrica 21, no. 1 (1953): 128–140 Cailin O’Connor, “Power and the Evolution of Inequity,” chap. 5 in The Origins of Unfairness: Social Categories and Cultural Evolution (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2019) Recommended Resnik, Choices: An Introduction to Decision Theory, pp. 157-175
10 Part III: Achieving Social Outcomes Coordination Problems Assessment Reading Response 5 - Friday 17 May Readings Cailin O’Connor, “Gender, Coordination Problems, and Coordination Games,” chap. 1 in The Origins of Unfairness: Social Categories and Cultural Evolution (2019) ibid, chap. 2 Recommended David Lewis, Convention: A Philosophical Study (Oxford: Blackwell Publishers, 2002), ch. 1 Michael Rescorla, "Convention", 2017, https://plato.stanford.edu/archives/sum2017/entries/conventi on/
11 Part III: Achieving Social Outcomes Justifying the State Readings Robert Nozick, Anarchy, State, and Utopia (New York: Basic, 1974), ch. 1 ibid., ch. 2 Justin P Bruner, “Locke , Nozick and the State of Nature,” Philosophical Studies, 2019, 1–17 Recommended Jonathan Anomaly et al., eds., Philosophy, Politics, and Economics: An Anthology (New York & Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2016), ch. 1
12 Part III: Achieving Social Outcomes Rationality and Authority Assessment Essay 2 - Friday 7 June Readings Joseph Raz, “The Justification of Authority,” in The Morality of Freedom (Oxford University Press, 1988), 1–29 Chad Lee-Stronach. 2018. ‘Authority, Obedience, and Uncertainty’. (MS) Recommended Scott J. Shapiro, Authority, ed. Jules L. Coleman, Kenneth Einar Himma, and Scott J. Shapiro (Oxford University Press, 2004), 382–439

Assessment Summary

Assessment task Value Due Date Return of assessment Learning Outcomes
Reading Responses 20 % 08/03/2019 31/05/2019 1, 2, 3
Essay 1 30 % 18/04/2019 02/05/2019 1, 2, 3
Essay 2 30 % 07/06/2019 21/06/2019 1, 2, 3
Tutorial Participation 20 % 25/02/2019 31/05/2019 1, 2, 3

* If the Due Date and Return of Assessment date are blank, see the Assessment Tab for specific Assessment Task details


ANU has educational policies, procedures and guidelines, which are designed to ensure that staff and students are aware of the University’s academic standards, and implement them. Students are expected to have read the Academic Misconduct Rule before the commencement of their course. Other key policies and guidelines include:

Assessment Requirements

The ANU is using Turnitin to enhance student citation and referencing techniques, and to assess assignment submissions as a component of the University's approach to managing Academic Integrity. For additional information regarding Turnitin please visit the ANU Online website. Students may choose not to submit assessment items through Turnitin. In this instance you will be required to submit, alongside the assessment item itself, hard copies of all references included in the assessment item.

Moderation of Assessment

Marks that are allocated during Semester are to be considered provisional until formalised by the College examiners meeting at the end of each Semester. If appropriate, some moderation of marks might be applied prior to final results being released.

Assessment Task 1

Value: 20 %
Due Date: 08/03/2019
Return of Assessment: 31/05/2019
Learning Outcomes: 1, 2, 3

Reading Responses

Students will write a short (150-300 word) reflective response to the materials of the previous weeks, focusing on a particular point of confusion, disagreement, or interest.

These responses will be posted on Wattle, and students are encouraged to engage with other other responses from other students. Each response is worth 4% of total grade.

Reading Response 1 - Friday 8 March

Reading Response 2 - Friday 22 March

Reading Response 3 - Friday 5 April

Reading Response 4 - Friday 3 May

Reading Response 5 - Friday 17 May

Assessment Task 2

Value: 30 %
Due Date: 18/04/2019
Return of Assessment: 02/05/2019
Learning Outcomes: 1, 2, 3

Essay 1

Students will write a 2000 word essay on one of the set essay questions relating to the first six weeks of the course.

Due Date: Thursday 18 April

Weighting: 30% of total grade

Assessment Task 3

Value: 30 %
Due Date: 07/06/2019
Return of Assessment: 21/06/2019
Learning Outcomes: 1, 2, 3

Essay 2

Students will write a 2000 word essay on one of the set essay questions relating to the final six weeks of the course.

Due Date: Friday 7 June

Weighting: 30% of total grade

Assessment Task 4

Value: 20 %
Due Date: 25/02/2019
Return of Assessment: 31/05/2019
Learning Outcomes: 1, 2, 3

Tutorial Participation

Students will engage constructively with each other on discussions and problem sets in tutorials, drawing on relevant information or concepts from the week's readings where appropriate.

Weighting: 20% of total grade

Academic Integrity

Academic integrity is a core part of our culture as a community of scholars. At its heart, academic integrity is about behaving ethically. This means that all members of the community commit to honest and responsible scholarly practice and to upholding these values with respect and fairness. The Australian National University commits to embedding the values of academic integrity in our teaching and learning. We ensure that all members of our community understand how to engage in academic work in ways that are consistent with, and actively support academic integrity. The ANU expects staff and students to uphold high standards of academic integrity and act ethically and honestly, to ensure the quality and value of the qualification that you will graduate with. The University has policies and procedures in place to promote academic integrity and manage academic misconduct. Visit the following Academic honesty & plagiarism website for more information about academic integrity and what the ANU considers academic misconduct. The ANU offers a number of services to assist students with their assignments, examinations, and other learning activities. The Academic Skills and Learning Centre offers a number of workshops and seminars that you may find useful for your studies.

Online Submission

All essay assignments: You will be required to electronically sign a declaration as part of the submission of your assignment. Please keep a copy of the assignment for your records. Unless an exemption has been approved by the Associate Dean (Education) as submission must be through Turnitin.

Hardcopy Submission

All essay assignments will submitted electronically via Turnitin.

Late Submission

Late submission of assessment tasks without an extension are penalised at the rate of 5% of the possible marks available per working day or part thereof. Late submission of assessment tasks is not accepted after 10 working days after the due date, or on or after the date specified in the course outline for the return of the assessment item. Late submission is not accepted for take-home examinations.

The Course Convener may grant extensions for assessment pieces that are not examinations or take-home examinations. If you need an extension, you must request it in writing on or before the due date. If you have documented and appropriate medical evidence that demonstrates you were not able to request an extension on or before the due date, you may be able to request it after the due date. 

Referencing Requirements

Accepted academic practice for referencing sources that you use in presentations can be found via the links on the Wattle site, under the file named “ANU and College Policies, Program Information, Student Support Services and Assessment”. Alternatively, you can seek help through the Students Learning Development website.

Returning Assignments

All graded assignments will be available via Turnitin.

Extensions and Penalties

Extensions and late submission of assessment pieces are covered by the Student Assessment (Coursework) Policy and Procedure. The Course Convener may grant extensions for assessment pieces that are not examinations or take-home examinations. If you need an extension, you must request an extension in writing on or before the due date. If you have documented and appropriate medical evidence that demonstrates you were not able to request an extension on or before the due date, you may be able to request it after the due date.

Privacy Notice

The ANU has made a number of third party, online, databases available for students to use. Use of each online database is conditional on student end users first agreeing to the database licensor’s terms of service and/or privacy policy. Students should read these carefully. In some cases student end users will be required to register an account with the database licensor and submit personal information, including their: first name; last name; ANU email address; and other information.
In cases where student end users are asked to submit ‘content’ to a database, such as an assignment or short answers, the database licensor may only use the student’s ‘content’ in accordance with the terms of service – including any (copyright) licence the student grants to the database licensor. Any personal information or content a student submits may be stored by the licensor, potentially offshore, and will be used to process the database service in accordance with the licensors terms of service and/or privacy policy.
If any student chooses not to agree to the database licensor’s terms of service or privacy policy, the student will not be able to access and use the database. In these circumstances students should contact their lecturer to enquire about alternative arrangements that are available.

Distribution of grades policy

Academic Quality Assurance Committee monitors the performance of students, including attrition, further study and employment rates and grade distribution, and College reports on quality assurance processes for assessment activities, including alignment with national and international disciplinary and interdisciplinary standards, as well as qualification type learning outcomes.

Since first semester 1994, ANU uses a grading scale for all courses. This grading scale is used by all academic areas of the University.

Support for students

The University offers students support through several different services. You may contact the services listed below directly or seek advice from your Course Convener, Student Administrators, or your College and Course representatives (if applicable).

Dr Chad Lee-Stronach

Research Interests

Ethics; Rational Choice Theory; Social and Political Philosophy;

Dr Chad Lee-Stronach

Thursday 13:00 15:00
Timothy Williamson

Research Interests

Timothy Williamson

Responsible Officer: Registrar, Student Administration / Page Contact: Website Administrator / Frequently Asked Questions