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

Undergraduate Course: Philosophy of Economics (PHIL10207)

Course Outline
SchoolSchool of Philosophy, Psychology and Language Sciences CollegeCollege of Arts, Humanities and Social Sciences
Credit level (Normal year taken)SCQF Level 10 (Year 4 Undergraduate) AvailabilityAvailable to all students
SCQF Credits20 ECTS Credits10
SummaryThe philosophy of economics as such goes back to the distinguishing of economics as its own discipline, addressing questions about the distinctiveness of the subject matter and the metaphysical, epistemological, and ethical status of its assumption and methods. This course will address questions such as the following. What is the metaphysical and epistemological status of the conception of the person employed in economic models? What is the subject matter of economics, if any? What distinguishes economic methodology from the methodologies of formal disciplines, empirical disciplines, philosophical disciplines? To what extent are economic theories value-laden? What is exchange? What is a market? What are the ethical limits or shortcomings with markets? What kinds of alternatives to markets are there? What is the practical significance of results in decision theory and game theory? To what extent can economics guide or be guided by political philosophy and moral philosophy?
Course description The course will be divided into three main parts, each of which will be addressed, although the exact distribution of topics and the emphasis may vary in any given year.

1. Methods and Epistemology of Economics
This part of the course addresses the distinctive metaphysical and epistemological questions concerning the nature and method of standard economic analysis. We will discuss questions such as: What is utility, and how do economists measure it? Does evidence of widespread `irrationality' from behavioural economics undermine standard microeconomic theory? Can idealised models teach us anything about real-world phenomena? If yes, how? How should we measure important economic variables, such as inflation? How do we best find out what interventions work in development? What is the practical significance of results in decision theory and game theory?

2. Welfare Economics
The second area of focus is on welfare economics, and the ethical assumptions and implications of economics. We will cover questions such as: Is getting what you want always good for you? Can you be harmed by something if you never know about it? Does it make sense to say that eating pizza gives me more happiness than going to the movies gives you? Is it possible to combine the preferences of individuals into an overall 'social' preference? Does it matter if the well-being of some people is less than that of others? When and why are markets desirable? Is paternalism always bad, and does welfare economics really avoid it? How should we resolve collective action problems? What is a fair way to distribute the tax burden?

3. Market and Non-Market Systems

What is exchange? What is a market? How do 'invisible hand' explanations work? What are market failures? Consider various market-based and non-market-based responses to market failures. What is the significance of the welfare theorems? What are property rights, and how do they differ from other kinds of rights, if at all? What is the labour theory of value? What might non-market-based economic systems be like?
Entry Requirements (not applicable to Visiting Students)
Pre-requisites Students MUST have passed: Knowledge and Reality (PHIL08017) AND Mind, Matter and Language (PHIL08014)
Prohibited Combinations Other requirements Students studying on MA Cognitive Science (Humanities) are permitted to take this course without having met the pre-requisites of Mind, Matter and Language and Knowledge and Reality. However, it is advisable that students discuss the suitability of the course with their PT and the course organiser before enrolling.
Information for Visiting Students
Pre-requisitesVisiting students should have completed at least 3 Philosophy courses at grade B or above. We will only consider University/College level courses. Applicants should note that, as with other popular courses, meeting the minimum does NOT guarantee admission. These enrolments are managed strictly by the Visiting Student Office, in line with the quotas allocated by the department, and all enquiries to enrol in these courses must be made through the CAHSS Visiting Student Office. It is not appropriate for students to contact the department directly to request additional spaces.
High Demand Course? Yes
Course Delivery Information
Not being delivered
Learning Outcomes
On completion of this course, the student will be able to:
  1. Understand the differences between the status of assumptions in orthodox economics and their broader philosophical justification.
  2. Apply abstract philosophical reasoning skills to concrete problems arising in the economics and the social sciences more broadly.
  3. Analyse metaphysical and value-laden presuppositions of economics.
  4. Identify and critically evaluate concerns about economics research and its wider implications.
  5. To interpret and analyse philosophical texts, evaluate arguments, and develop critical ideas in response.
Reading List
To keep the readings up to date and to allow different course organisers to emphasise different topics, the following list of readings is merely indicative. Due to time constraints, only selections from the full books listed below would be covered and only articles relevant to the particular topics covered in a year would be assigned:

D. Hausman, The Philosophy of Economics: An Anthology; J. L. Bermudez, Decision Theory and Rationality; J. Cohen and W. Easterly, What Works in Development: Thinking Big and Thinking Small; D. Hausman and M. McPherson, Economic Analysis, Moral Philosophy, and Public Policy; M. D. Adler, Measuring Social Welfare: An Introduction; D. Satz, Why Some Things Should Not Be for Sale.
Additional Information
Graduate Attributes and Skills This course will enable students to approach research about the foundations of economics with a critical mindset. They will be aware of important differences in the methods used by economists and philosophers of economics, which will allow them to evaluate information and results provided by economics effectively and to communicate potential concerns clearly, both orally and in writing. Students will be able to engage critically with the contemporary philosophical literature on economics, and to connect it to particular economic results. They will be able to apply abstract philosophical reasoning skills to concrete problems arising in economics.
KeywordsNot entered
Course organiserDr Barry Maguire
Tel: (0131 6)51 3083
Course secretaryMiss Ann-Marie Cowe
Tel: (0131 6)50 3961
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