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DRPS : Course Catalogue : School of Philosophy, Psychology and Language Sciences : Philosophy

Postgraduate Course: Belief, Desire and Rational Choice MSc (PHIL11158)

Course Outline
SchoolSchool of Philosophy, Psychology and Language Sciences CollegeCollege of Arts, Humanities and Social Sciences
Credit level (Normal year taken)SCQF Level 11 (Postgraduate) AvailabilityAvailable to all students
SCQF Credits20 ECTS Credits10
SummaryThis course introduces the basics of contemporary decision theory, discusses general norms on rational belief and desire, and investigates whether decision
theory can serve as a functionalist framework to define the concepts of (graded) belief and desire.

Course description Decision theory systematizes the connection between belief, desire, and rational choice, very roughly, that rational agents act in a way that would bring them closer to satisfying their desires if the world were as they believe it to be. After introducing the basic framework of decision theory, this course
will focus on two questions. First, does rationality impose constraints on what an agent may believe or desire, and if so, what are these constraints? Second, can we turn around the principles of decision theory and define (or explicate) an agent's beliefs and desires in terms of their choices?

Decision theory has proved useful in many areas of philosophy, from philosophy of science to epistemology to political philosophy. Unfortunately
the literature is often difficult and technical. A central aim of this course is to isolate the simple ideas behind those technicalities.
Entry Requirements (not applicable to Visiting Students)
Pre-requisites Students MUST have passed: Logic 1 (PHIL08004)
Prohibited Combinations Other requirements None
Information for Visiting Students
Pre-requisitesVisiting students should have obtained the equivalent of Logic 1 (PHIL08004) during their previous studies at University or College level.
High Demand Course? Yes
Course Delivery Information
Not being delivered
Learning Outcomes
On completion of this course, the student will be able to:
  1. Students will have developed skills in understanding, interpreting, and critically engaging with philosophical texts, and learn not to be intimidated by formulas.
  2. Students will have seen how superficially very different areas of philosophy may be closely connected, and they will have gained insights that could prove useful in other areas.
  3. Students will have practised critical thinking, constructive discussion, and development of their own ideas.
  4. Students will have practised presenting the content of a research article.
  5. Students will have practised writing a critical essay on decision theory, the nature of rationality, and/or the problem of intentionality.
Reading List
Ian Hacking (1975): "The great decision", ch.8 of /The Emergence of Probability/
James Joyce (1999): "Decision problems",ch.2 of /The Foundations of Causal Decision Theory/
Lara Buchak (forthcoming): "Decision Theory", in /The Oxford Handbook of Probability and Philosophy/, eds. Christopher Hitchcock and Alan Hájek
Robert Stalnaker (1984): "The problem of intentionality", ch.1 of /Inquiry/
Frank Ramsey (1926): "Truth and probability"
Simon Blackburn (1998): "Game theory and rational choice", ch.6 of /Ruling Passions/Jamie Dreier (1996): "Rational Preference: Decision theory as a theory of practical rationality", /Theory and Decision/ 40: 249-276
Lyle Zynda (2000): "Representation Theorems and Realism about Degrees of Belief", /Philosophy of Science/ 67: 45-69
Lina Eriksson and Alan Hájek (2007): "What are Degrees of Belief?", /Studia Logica/ 86: 183-213
David Lewis (1974): "Radical interpretation", /Synthese/ 27: 331-344
Richard Jeffrey (1968/1992): "Probable Knowledge", ch.2 of /Probability and the art of Judgment/
Brian Skyrms (1984): "Degrees of Belief", ch.2 of /Pragmatics and Empiricism/
Christopher Meacham (2014): "Impermissive Bayesianism", /Erkenntnis/ 79: 1185-1217
Daniel Kahneman (2003): "A perspective on judgment and choice: Mapping bounded rationality", /American Psychologist/ 58:697-720
Samuel Gershman and Nathaniel Daw (2012): "Perception, action and utility: the tangled skein". In M. Rabinowich, K. Friston and P. Varona (eds.) /Principles of Brain Dynamics: Global State Interactions/, 293-312
Alejandro Perez Carballo (2014): "Structuring Logical Space", /Philosophy and Phenomenological Research/
Additional Information
Course URL See Learn website
Graduate Attributes and Skills Reading, understanding and critically engaging with difficult texts; crtitical thinking, constructive discussion; presenting; essay writing
KeywordsDecision theory,rational choice,utility,probability,intentionality,normativity,rationality
Course organiserDr Wolfgang Schwarz
Course secretaryMiss Sabina Ali
Tel: (0131 6) 50 4400
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