- Code PHIL2125
- Unit Value 6 units
- 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
- Academic career UGRD
- Prof Katie Steele
- Mode of delivery In Person
First Semester 2023
See Future Offerings
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.
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:
and articulate key philosophical issues pertaining to rational choice and
inference, both for individuals and groups
- Engage with
and critically evaluate (in essay form) formal and discursive material relevant
to individual, game and social choice theory
- Engage in well-reasoned, justified and articulate discussion and debate.
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)
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Workload130 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
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
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- Student Contribution Band:
- Unit value:
- 6 units
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