Rationality and Decisions (PHIL370)
Instructor: Gerard Rothfus
Tuesdays & Thursdays · 11:00am–12:15pm · SPA–212
Decisions—choices of what to do or believe from a set of alternatives—are a pervasive feature of our daily lives. Many decisions are quite mundane (e.g., what to eat for lunch), while others (e.g., whether to invest in an exciting but risky business venture) have the potential to alter the trajectory of one’s life. This course introduces students to formal techniques for making and evaluating decisions. A formal approach to decision-making is powerful, as it allows rules of good reasoning to be applied across whatever kinds of decisions one might face, no matter their specific content. Students will be exposed to concepts and methods from symbolic logic, probability theory, and game theory, in order to develop their skills in representing and analyzing decisions. While we will be interested primarily in normative issues (having to do with how one ought to reason), we will also take note of empirical findings regarding how human beings tend to actually make decisions. The course is aimed at equipping students with tools they can use to improve the decisions they make and to avoid common errors of reasoning. Thus the emphasis is on becoming able to apply what is learned in the course to real-world problems, rather than simply gaining a certain facility with performing ‘cookbook’ calculations. No advanced mathematical background is required.
Note also that PHIL370 satisfies the GE requirement for upper-division category B. Additionally, PHIL370 can satisfy the M&E distribution for Philosophy majors, and can also be used for the Philosophy minor.