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Phil 321/01 (3)

Probability and Decision

Term 1 (Fall 2001)



Review Session:  Monday, Dec. 3, 10 - 12 a.m., Buchanan B220

Exam Information: 

Partially open book (all three texts, but no notes)
Two hours
Calculator permitted
Covers chapters 4, 5 of Resnik, photocopied essays as discussed in class, Skyrms 1-4
    Resnik, ch. 4 (except section 4-3):                                           25%
    Resnik, ch. 5 (except everything from section 5-5a onwards)
                + Iterated PD problems:                                                35%
    Essay question (choice of three, drawn from Resnik, the photocopied articles
            as covered in lectures, and Skyrms ch. 1-4):                     40%

Practise exam  (AAR)
(Note:  some questions may reflect different material covered and can be ignored)

Assignment 3:  Problem 1c) is now an optional bonus question.   See "Skyrms, chapter 1:  additional information" for some discussion of how to do this problem.

Due date clarification:  Assignment 3 is due Friday, November 30.

Extension:  The term paper is now due Monday, December 10 instead of November 30.

MWF 11:00-12:00
Buchanan B313


Paul Bartha
Buchanan E-358
Tel. 822-2621

Office Hours

MW 12:00-1:00 or by appointment

Description: There are two well-developed philosophical theories that try to characterize what it means to make choices rationally. One is Decision Theory, which considers the position of one agent choosing between several alternatives, with varying levels of information about factors that might influence the resulting outcomes. The other is Game Theory, which provides techniques for analyzing interactions between several agents.

The course will focus on explaining the two theories and related concepts (such as probability). We will also explore paradoxical situations (such as Newcomb’s problem and the Prisoner’s Dilemma) where the theories appear to clash with ordinary intuitions about rationality.

Both theories have a wide range of applications, including business strategies, ethical and political choices, and the confirmation/disconfirmation of scientific theories. We will consider such applications throughout the course, with emphasis on social applications of game theory, concluding with a discussion of Skyrms’ book, Evolution of the Social Contract.  


[C] Choices: An Introduction to Decision Theory, Michael Resnik (University of Minnesota, 1991). Available in bookstore.

[SC] Evolution of the Social Contract, Brian Skyrms (Cambridge University Press, 1996). Available in bookstore.

[X] Extra photocopied materials (course packet).

Requirements: The final grade will be based upon the following scheme:  three problem sets (15%), mid-term test (20%), term paper (2000-2500 words/8-10 pages — 30%), final exam (35%).

Pre-requisites: There are no pre-requisites; however, students who take this course should feel comfortable with technical work. I recommend having taken Phil 120 (Critical Thinking), Phil 220 (Logic), or introductory courses in mathematics, computer science or economics. Please speak to me if you have any concerns about this aspect of the course.

Course Hand-outs

Note:  Hand-outs marked "AAR" require Adobe Acrobat Reader.  Want to download this for free?  Here is the link:  Download Acrobat Reader.

Course Syllabus                                                              Assignments
Overheads:  Week 2 (AAR)                                             Assignment 1 (AAR)
Overheads:  Week 3 (AAR)                                             Solutions to Assignment 1 (AAR)
Overheads:  Utilities (AAR)                                               Assignment 2 (AAR)                                  Overheads:  Allais and Ellsberg Paradoxes (AAR)             Solutions to Assignment 2  (AAR)
Overheads:  Newcomb's Problem (AAR)                           Assignment 3  (AAR)                        
Overheads:  Game Theory I  (AAR)                                     Solutions to Assignment 3 (AAR)
Overheads:  Game Theory II  (AAR)                                 Final Essay Topics (AAR)
Overheads:  Game Theory III (AAR)                                 Additional essay topic
Overheads:  Newcomb's Problem and the Prisoners Dilemma (AAR)
Overheads:  Skyrms, chapter 1 (AAR)
Skyrms, chapter 1:  additional information (AAR)
Overheads:  Skyrms, chapter 2 (AAR)
Overheads:  Skyrms, chapter 3 (AAR)
Overheads:  Skyrms, chapter 4 (AAR)