• Offered by School of Philosophy
  • ANU College ANU College of Arts and Social Sciences
  • Course subject Philosophy
  • Areas of interest Philosophy, Psychology, Economics, Artifical Intelligence, Politics

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.

Indicative Assessment

1 x mid-semester take-home exam (15%) (Learning Outcome 1)

1 x 2000-word essay (30%) (Learning Outcomes 1 and 2)

1 x 2500-word essay (45%) (Learning Outcomes 1 and 2)

Tutorial participation (10%) (Learning Outcomes 1 and 3)

The ANU uses 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. While the use of Turnitin is not mandatory, the ANU highly recommends Turnitin is used by both teaching staff and students. For additional information regarding Turnitin please visit the ANU Online website.


130 hours of total student learning time made up from:
a) 35 hours of contact over 12 weeks: 24 hours of lectures and 11 hours of tutorial and tutorial-like activities.
b) 95 hours of independent student research, reading and writing.

Requisite and Incompatibility

To enrol in this course you must have previously completed 6 units of Philosophy (PHIL) courses, or with permission of the convenor.

Preliminary Reading

Richard Jeffrey, 'The Logic of Decision', Michael Resnik, 'Choices: an introduction to decision theory', Martin Peterson 'An Introduction to Decision Theory', Amartya Sen 'Collective Choice and Social Welfare', Duncan Luce and Howard Raiffa 'Games and Decisions', Wulf Gaertner 'A Primer in Social Choice Theory', J. S. Kelly 'Social Choice Theory. An Introduction', Daniel Hausman and Michael McPherson 'Economic Analysis, Moral Philosophy and Public Policy'.


Tuition fees are for the academic year indicated at the top of the page.  

Commonwealth Support (CSP) Students
If you have been offered a Commonwealth supported place, your fees are set by the Australian Government for each course. At ANU 1 EFTSL is 48 units (normally 8 x 6-unit courses). More information about your student contribution amount for each course at Fees

Student Contribution Band:
Unit value:
6 units

If you are a domestic graduate coursework student with a Domestic Tuition Fee (DTF) place or international student you will be required to pay course tuition fees (see below). Course tuition fees are indexed annually. Further information for domestic and international students about tuition and other fees can be found at Fees.

Where there is a unit range displayed for this course, not all unit options below may be available.

6.00 0.12500
Domestic fee paying students
Year Fee
2022 $3840
International fee paying students
Year Fee
2022 $4980
Note: Please note that fee information is for current year only.

Offerings, Dates and Class Summary Links

ANU utilises MyTimetable to enable students to view the timetable for their enrolled courses, browse, then self-allocate to small teaching activities / tutorials so they can better plan their time. Find out more on the Timetable webpage.

The list of offerings for future years is indicative only.
Class summaries, if available, can be accessed by clicking on the View link for the relevant class number.

First Semester

Class number Class start date Last day to enrol Census date Class end date Mode Of Delivery Class Summary
3636 20 Feb 2023 27 Feb 2023 31 Mar 2023 26 May 2023 In Person View

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