Philosophy of Economics

A.Y. 2019/2020
Overall hours
Learning objectives
The course aims at familiarizing students with the main philosophical debates concerning the status of economics as a science, as well as its moral and political dimension.
Expected learning outcomes
Knowledge and understanding

At the end of the course the students
- will learn to analyse and evaluate critically the main epistemological and normative critiques of mainstream (neoclassical) economics, as well as the main arguments in its favour;
- will understand arguments concerning the use of idealized models and the problems faced by social scientists when they try to forecast economic events;
- will learn the difference between nomological and causal explanations, and the pros and cons of theory-testing in the laboratory and in the field.
- will understand the main arguments in favour of market institutions, as well as the critiques that highlight their limits;
- will know how different conceptions of welfare, equality and justice play a role in the evaluation of economic policies.

Ability to apply knowledge and understanding

At the end of the course the students
- will be able to analyse and critically assess the main arguments brought in favour and against different philosophical positions concerning the methodology of economics and the normative evaluation of economic policies;
- will be able to identify the ways in which these debates may be resolved, and how their solutions may contribute to scientific progress and understanding;
- will be able to present the main arguments independently, satisfying the main requirements of scholarly writing.
Course syllabus and organization

Single session

Lesson period
Third trimester
Course syllabus
- The problem(s) of induction
- Are economic models (too) unrealistic? The problem of idealization
- Can economic theories be tested? Forecasting and refutation
- Is efficiency enough? Welfare economics and preference satisfaction
- Distributive justice: primary goods, freedom, and capabilities
- Are there immoral transactions? The limits of markets
Prerequisites for admission
Teaching methods
Lectures, students' presentations and discussions
Teaching Resources
This bibliography is preliminary and only indicative. The final syllabus, as well as other useful teaching material, can be found on the Ariel online platform of this course (
· J.S. Mill (1836) "On the Definition and Method of Political Economy", in Essays on Some Unsettled Questions of Political Economy.
· Sugden, R. (2000) "Credible Worlds: The Status of Theoretical Models in Economics", Journal of Economic Methodology 7: 1-31.
· Friedman, M. (1953) "The Methodology of Positive Economics", in Essays in Positive Economics. University of Chicago Press.
· Maki, U. (2011) "Models and the Locus of Their Truth", Synthese 180: 47-63.
· Hausman, D., McPherson, M. and Satz, D. (2017) Economic Analysis, Moral Philosophy, and Public Policy. Cambridge University Press (selected chapters).
· Robbins, L. (1932) An Essay on the Nature and Significance of Economic Science. MacMillan. Chapter 6
· Sen, A. (1999) On Ethics and Economics. Blackwell, Chapter 2.
· Rawls, J. "Distributive Justice", in Ryan (ed.) Justice, Oxford UP 1993; also in Stewarts (ed.) Readings in Political Philosophy.
· Nozick, R. (1974) "Distributive Justice", Philosophy & Public Affairs 3: 45-126.
· Sen, A. (2003) "Development as capability expansion." Readings in Human Development. Concepts, Measures and Policies for a Development Paradigm, pp. 3-16.
· Sandel, M. (1998) "What Money Can't Buy", The Tanner Lectures on Human Values.
In addition to the above articles, non-attending students are invited to read
· Reiss, J. (2013) Philosophy of Economics: A Contemporary Introduction. Routledge.
· Hausman, D., McPherson, M. and Satz, D. (2017) Economic Analysis, Moral Philosophy, and Public Policy. Cambridge University Press.
Assessment methods and Criteria
Essay (50%) and written exam (50%)
SECS-P/01 - ECONOMICS - University credits: 9
Lessons: 60 hours
Professor: Guala Francesco
Tuesday 9.30-12.30, by appointment
Department of Philosophy, via Festa del Perdono 7, Cortile Ghiacciaia, top floor