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Games, Preferences and Decisions


Games, Preferences and Decisions


Anno accademico 2020/2021

Codice dell'attività didattica
Jan Michael Sprenger (Titolare del corso)
Corso di studi
laurea magistrale in Filosofia
Philosophy International Curriculum M.A.
1° anno 2° anno
Periodo didattico
Secondo semestre
Caratterizzante - Ambito: Discipline classiche, storiche, antropologiche e politico-sociali
SSD dell'attività didattica
SECS-P/01 - economia politica
Modalità di erogazione
Lingua di insegnamento
Modalità di frequenza
Tipologia d'esame
Knowledge of mathematics at high school level, and interest in understanding human rationality. The course is open for students from all disciplines.

Sommario insegnamento


Obiettivi formativi

The course introduces students to the essential elements of decision theory, expected utility theory, game theory and their applications to important phenomena in modern society (e.g., altruistic behavior, the concept of fairness, the breakdown of negotiations, emergence and decline of social norms). More broadly, the course familiarizes students with modern theories of instrumental rationality which are contrasted to empirical evidence and rivalling philosophical theories of rationality (e.g., Kantian accounts).


Risultati dell'apprendimento attesi

At the end of the course, the students possess a clear understanding of "rational decisions" and "rational behavior", and the scope and limits of the theories that describe them. They understand the technical foundations of rational choice theory and game theory, can evaluate these  models critically, and apply them to real-world problems.


Modalità di insegnamento

Mixture of lectures and seminar. Active contribution from the participants is a prerequisite for passing the course.


Modalità di verifica dell'apprendimento

Essay (ca. 3,000 words) and written exam. These two elements count equally toward the final grade (45% each). The remaining 10% of the grade is determined on the basis of contributions in class.



Part I: Individual Rationality and Decision Theory

Week 1 and 2 (first class): The concept of rationality and utility in the British philosophy of the 18th and 19th century (Hume, Bentham, Mill), and its impact on the modern formulation.

Week 2 (second class) and Week 3: Modern decision theory in the axiomatic formulation by von Neumann/Morgenstern and Savage, based on the concept of rational preferences. Challenges to that view (Allais paradox, Ellsberg paradox). 

Part II: Interactive Rationality and Game Theory

Week 4: Introduction to game theory and its central concepts such as dominant strategy, the Nash equilibrium. Different kinds of Nash equilibria (e.g., pure and randomized ones), and their interpretations.

Week 5: Applying game theory to explaining altruistic behavior cooperation. Criticism and limitations of game theory. The evolutionary interpretation of game theory.

Week 6: The emergence, maintenance and decay of social norms from the perspective of game theory. Norms vs. conventions.

Time permitting, we will also discuss problems of social choice (e.g., Arrow's impossibility theorem for collective preferences) and judgment aggregation.

Testi consigliati e bibliografia


A good introduction to rational choice is the following collection of essays:

  • Hargreaves-Heap, S. (1992): The Theory of Choice: A Critical Guide. London: Blackwell.

To understand the historical roots of the modern concept of rationality, we will read excerpts from the following books:

  • Bentham, Jeremy (1789/1907). An Introduction to the Principles of Morals and Legislation. Oxford: Clarendon Press.
  • Hume, David (1751): An Enquiry Concerning the Principles of Morals.
  • Kant, Immanuel (1785): Grundlegung zur Metaphysik der Sitten. 
  • Mill, John Stuart (1861/1988): Utilitarianism, Roger Crisp (ed.), Oxford: Oxford University Press.

For the modern theory and its criticism, we will (inter alia) look at the following papers and books:

  • Bicchieri, Cristina (2004): Rationality and Game Theory, in A. Mele (ed.): The Oxford Handbook of Rationality, pp. 182-205, Oxford University Press, Oxford.
  • Bicchieri, Cristina (2006): The Grammar of Society. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
  • Binmore, Ken (2006): Why do people cooperate? Politics, Philosophy and Economics 5, pp. 81-96.
  • Ellsberg, Daniel (1961): Risk, Ambiguity and the Savage Axioms. Quarterly Journal of Economics 75, 643-669.
  • Fehr, Ernst and Urs Fischbacher (2002): Why Social Preferences Matter---The Impact of Non-selfish Motives on Competition, Cooperation and Incentives. The Economic Journal 112: C1-C33.
  • Guala, Francesco, and Luigi Mittone (2010): Paradigmatic Experiments: The Dictator’s Game, Journal of Socio-Economics 39, 578-584.
  • Savage, L.J. (1954): The Foundations of Statistics. New York: Wiley.
  • Sen, Amartya (1977): Rational Fools: A Critique of the Behavioral Foundations of Economic Theory. Philosophy and Public Affairs 6, 317-344.

Finally, the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy provides various useful entries related to the contents of the course.

Ultimo aggiornamento: 15/02/2021 15:06
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