• Class Number 4130
  • Term Code 3130
  • Class Info
  • Unit Value 6 units
  • Mode of Delivery In Person
    • AsPr Katie Steele
    • Prof Alan Hajek
    • Dr Brian Hedden
  • Class Dates
  • Class Start Date 22/02/2021
  • Class End Date 28/05/2021
  • Census Date 31/03/2021
  • Last Date to Enrol 01/03/2021
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 addresses both longstanding and new areas of philosophical research, or philosophical problems, in rational choice theory (including problems that one or more of the lecturers on the course are actively researching).

Field Trips


Additional Course Costs


Examination Material or equipment


Required Resources

Relevant readings will be provided on the course Wattle page.

The lectures for this course will be accessible online. Generally, one hour of the lecture will be pre-recorded, and one hour will be held online live with a recording made available afterwards.

Staff Feedback

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

  • written comments
  • verbal comments
  • feedback to whole class, groups, individuals, focus group etc

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.

Class Schedule

Week/Session Summary of Activities Assessment
1 Philosophical foundations of expected utility (EU) theory Katie Steele. Two hours online lectures: One hour prerecorded video, available for download or streaming one week in advance on Wattle. One hour of class video connection, where students connect through Zoom for an hour (this mode of delivery is called “online live”) at a time specified in the timetable. Links and instructions will be available on Wattle. Note that for this course there are no lectures to attend in person on campus.
2 Challenge 1: risk aversion Katie Steele. Two hours online lectures as per week 1.
3 Challenge 2: unbounded state spaces Alan Hajek. Two hours online lectures as per week 1.
4 Challenge 3: "infinite" utility Alan Hajek. Two hours online lectures as per week 1.
5 Scientific method and decision theory Katie Steele. Two hours online lectures as per week 1.
6 Ethics and decision theory Katie Steele. Two hours online lectures as per week 1.
7 Rationality and time bias Brian Hedden. Two hours online lectures as per week 1.
8 Collective action problems Brian Hedden. Two hours online lectures as per week 1.
9 Coordination problems Brian Hedden. Two hours online lectures as per week 1.
10 Social choice: Arrow's theorem Brian Hedden. Two hours online lectures as per week 1.
11 Social choice: Utilitarianism and beyond Katie Steele. Two hours online lectures as per week 1.
12 Bargaining theory Katie Steele. Two hours online lectures as per week 1.

Tutorial Registration

Instructions for tutorial registration will be announced at the end of orientation week, just prior to the first week of the teaching semester. Tutorials are listed in the timetable; two of these are listed as 'on campus' and will be conducted in person while the remaining three will be conducted online live. Note that the on-campus tutorials are subject to ANU's COVID policy.

Assessment Summary

Assessment task Value Due Date Return of assessment Learning Outcomes
tutorial participation 10 % 22/02/2021 31/05/2021 1, 3
mid-semester take-home exam 15 % 22/03/2021 31/03/2021 1
mid-semester essay 30 % 19/04/2021 03/05/2021 1, 2
final essay 45 % 27/05/2021 01/07/2021 1, 2

* 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 Academic Integrity . In rare cases where online submission using Turnitin software is not technically possible; or where not using Turnitin software has been justified by the Course Convener and approved by the Associate Dean (Education) on the basis of the teaching model being employed; students shall submit assessment online via ‘Wattle’ outside of Turnitin, or failing that in hard copy, or through a combination of submission methods as approved by the Associate Dean (Education). The submission method is detailed below.

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.


As noted above, 10% of the final grade pertains to tutorial participation; grading criteria will be announced at the start of semester.


There are no formal examinations for this course. (The take-home exam is to be completed in the student's own time over the course of one week.)

Assessment Task 1

Value: 10 %
Due Date: 22/02/2021
Return of Assessment: 31/05/2021
Learning Outcomes: 1, 3

tutorial participation

Students will be graded on the quality of their participation in tutorials throughout semester; further details to be provided.

Assessment Task 2

Value: 15 %
Due Date: 22/03/2021
Return of Assessment: 31/03/2021
Learning Outcomes: 1

mid-semester take-home exam

Students will have one week to complete a take-home exam, which will be due at the beginning of the 5th teaching week. The exam will include maths-style problems and questions requiring short answers covering material from the first 4 weeks of the course.

Assessment Task 3

Value: 30 %
Due Date: 19/04/2021
Return of Assessment: 03/05/2021
Learning Outcomes: 1, 2

mid-semester essay

Students will be required to write a 2000-word essay on a question pertaining to the topics covered in the first half of the course. The essay questions will be released in the 5th teaching week, and the essay will be due at the beginning of the 7th teaching week, after the mid-semester break. Essays will be graded according to a rubric that will be provided.

Assessment Task 4

Value: 45 %
Due Date: 27/05/2021
Return of Assessment: 01/07/2021
Learning Outcomes: 1, 2

final essay

Students will be required to write a 2500-word essay on a question pertaining to the topics covered in the second half of the course. The essay questions will be released in the 9th teaching week, and the essay will be due at the end of the 12th teaching week, at the end of semester. Essays will be graded according to a rubric that will be provided.

Academic Integrity

Academic integrity is a core part of the ANU culture as a community of scholars. At its heart, academic integrity is about behaving ethically, committing to honest and responsible scholarly practice and upholding these values with respect and fairness.

The ANU commits to assisting all members of our community to 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 be familiar with the academic integrity principle and Academic Misconduct Rule, 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 Academic Misconduct Rule is in place to promote academic integrity and manage academic misconduct. Very minor breaches of the academic integrity principle may result in a reduction of marks of up to 10% of the total marks available for the assessment. The ANU offers a number of online and in person services to assist students with their assignments, examinations, and other learning activities. Visit the Academic Skills website for more information about academic integrity, your responsibilities and for assistance with your assignments, writing skills and study.

Online Submission

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) submission must be through Turnitin.

Hardcopy Submission

For some forms of assessment (hand written assignments, art works, laboratory notes, etc.) hard copy submission is appropriate when approved by the Associate Dean (Education). Hard copy submissions must utilise the Assignment Cover Sheet. Please keep a copy of tasks completed for your records.

Late Submission

Individual assessment tasks may or may not allow for late submission. Policy regarding late submission is detailed below:

  • Late submission not permitted. If submission of assessment tasks without an extension after the due date is not permitted, a mark of 0 will be awarded.
  • Late submission permitted. 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.

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

Feedback and marks for assignments will be returned via Wattle or else by email. Students will have opportunities to receive further feedback on assessment items in person by making an appointment with the tutor and/or lecturer in their office hours.

Extensions and Penalties

Extensions and late submission of assessment pieces are covered by the Student Assessment (Coursework) Policy and Procedure. Extensions may be granted 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.

Resubmission of Assignments

There are no opportunities for resubmission of assignments.

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).

AsPr Katie Steele

Research Interests

rational choice and inference, ethics and public policy, scientific method, climate change policy

AsPr Katie Steele

Tuesday 14:00 16:00
Prof Alan Hajek

Research Interests

Prof Alan Hajek

By Appointment
Dr Brian Hedden

Research Interests

Dr Brian Hedden

By Appointment

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