• 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
  • Course convener
    • Prof Katie Steele
  • Mode of delivery In Person
  • Offered in First Semester 2025
    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, and 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. 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. One question is how collective judgments should depend on the judgments of the individual members. This question is pursued in the context of democratic theory, where the focus is on the procedure by which a group should decide on actions or attitudes to jointly adopt. This question is also pursued in the context of social welfare or choice theory, where the focus is on determining the collective preference ranking over social states that best represents, or is the most appropriate aggregate of, the respective individual preference rankings. A rather different sort of question is what an individual should do when the consequences of their choice depend on what others do, and vice versa. This is the province of game theory. Standard solution concepts for games are introduced, but the focus is on the limits of these solutions—when collective-action problems arise. Bargaining theory is introduced as a way of negotiating these collective-action problems (amongst other sorts of problems); it may be seen as an intermediary between game theory and social welfare or choice theory.

Learning Outcomes

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

  1. understand and describe key philosophical issues and associated theory pertaining to rational choice and inference, both for individuals and groups;
  2. critically evaluate both formal and discursive material relevant to rational (individual, game and social) choice theory;
  3. competently articulate in written form arguments for and against contrasting positions within rational choice theory and the real-world implications of these positions; and
  4. competently engage in reasoned oral debate about the relative merits and implications of theoretical positions within rational choice theory.

Indicative Assessment

  1. 1 x mid-semester take-home exam consisting of short responses and exercises (15) [LO 1,2]
  2. 2 x written assessments equivalent to 3,500 words in total (75) [LO 1,2,3]
  3. Tutorial participation (10) [LO 1,2,4]

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.

Workload

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.

Inherent Requirements

Not applicable

Requisite and Incompatibility

To enrol in this course you must have previously completed 12 units of Philosophy (PHIL) courses, or with permission of the convenor.

Prescribed Texts

Required readings will be posted on the course Wattle page.

Preliminary Reading

Amartya Sen (1970) ‘Collective Choice and Social Welfare’, Michael Resnik (1987) 'Choices: an introduction to decision theory', Daniel Hausman, Michael McPherson and Debra Satz (2016) 'Economic Analysis, Moral Philosophy and Public Policy'.

Fees

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:
14
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.

Units EFTSL
6.00 0.12500
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
3064 17 Feb 2025 24 Feb 2025 31 Mar 2025 23 May 2025 In Person N/A

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