Philosophy of the social sciences

A.Y. 2019/2020
Overall hours
Learning objectives
The course aims at familiarizing students with the main issues discussed in contemporary philosophy of the social sciences, with particular emphasis on social ontology and rational choice theory.
Expected learning outcomes
Knowledge and understanding
At the end of the course the students
- will learn to identify and distinguish the most prominent positions in debates concerning individualism, reductionism, constructionism, and realism;
- will understand the theories that philosophers, psychologists, biologists and economists have put forward to explain the emergence of institutions;
- will know what kind of cognitive capacities allow human beings to engage in coordination and cooperation, on a scale of complexity that is unknown in the natural world.

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 scientific status of the social sciences, the nature of institutions, and the emergence of cooperation;
- 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
First semester
Course syllabus
- methodological and ontological individualism
- Conventions and coordination
- The problem of cooperation
- The evolution of cooperation
- Social Norms
- Collective intentionality
- Constitutive rules
Prerequisites for admission
None, but basic knowledge of philosophy of science may help
Teaching methods
Lectures, seminar discussions
Teaching Resources
A complete list of material can be found on the Ariel website of the course ( Only compulsory items are listed here.
* Watkins, J. W. (1957) "Historical Explanation in the Social Sciences", British Journal for the Philosophy of Science 8: 104-117. [in electronic library, also in M&M]
* Sawyer, K. (2002) "Nonreductive Individualism: Part I - Supervenience and Wild Disjunction", Philosophy of the Social Sciences 32: 537-59 [ariel, S&G].
* Guala, F. (2016) Understanding Institutions, Princeton University Press, Ch. 2 ("Games") [ariel]
* Lewis, D. (1969) Convention. Blackwell, selected paragraphs from Chs. 1 and 2. [S&G, ariel]
* Peterson, M. (ed. 2015) The Prisoner's Dilemma. Cambridge University Press (Introduction). [ariel]
* Handout on Repeated Games [ariel].
* Camerer, C. F., & Fehr, E. (2004) "Measuring social norms and preferences using experimental games: A guide for social scientists", in J. Henrich et al (eds.) Foundations of Human Sociality, Oxford Univer-sity Press. [There are various pre-print versions online, e.g.]
* Frank, R. H. (1988) Passions within Reason, Norton (Ch.3: "A Theory of Moral Sentiments") [in Ariel]
* Alexander, J. M. (2019) "Evolutionary Game Theory", Stanford Encyclopedia of Philoso-phy [online], especially sec-tions 1,2,3,5.
* Okasha, S., (2013) "Biological Altruism", Stanford Encyclopedia of Philoso-phy… [online]
* Bicchieri, C. (2006) The Grammar of Society, Cambridge University Press, Ch. 1 ("The rules we live by"). [S&G, ariel]
* Gilbert, M. (1990) "Walking Together: A Paradigmatic Social Phenomenon", Midwest Studies in Philosophy 15: pp. 1-14. [ariel, online]
* Searle, J. (2005) "What Is an Institution?", Journal of Institutional Economics 1: 1-22 [online, S&G].
* Guala, F. and Hindriks, F. (2015) "A Unified Social Ontology", Philosophical Quarterly 165 (2015): 177-201. [library]
Non-attending students must also read:
* Hempel, C. G. (1942) "The Function of General Laws in History", Journal of Philosophy, 39: 35-48. [library, M&M, S&G]
* Davidson, D. (1976) "Hempel on Explaining Action", Erkenntnis 10: 239-253. [library]
* Goldman, A. I. (1989) "Interpretation Psychologized", Mind & Language 4: 161-185. [S&G, ariel]
* McGeer, V. (2007) "The Regulative Dimension of Folk Psychology", in Folk Psychology Re-assessed, edited by D. Hutto and M. Radcliffe. Springer, 137-156. [online]
* Hacking, I. (1995) "The Looping Effect of Human Kinds", in Causal Cognition: A Multidisciplinary De-bate, edited by A. Premack. Clarendon Press, pp. 351-83 [S&G, ariel].
* Mallon, R. (2003) "Social Construction, Social Roles, and Stability." In Socializing Metaphysics, edited by F. F. Schmidt. Rowman and & Littlefield, pp. 327-353. [ariel]
* Thomasson, A. (2003) "Realism and Human Kinds", Philosophy and Phenomenological Research 68: 580-609. [library]
* Haslanger, S. (2005) "What Are We Talking About? The Semantics and Politics of Social Kinds." Hypa-tia 20: 10-26. [library, online]
* Fricker, M. (2006) "Powerlessness and Social Interpretation", Episteme 3: 96-108. [S&G, ariel]
Assessment methods and Criteria
Esame scritto
Unita' didattica A
M-FIL/02 - LOGIC AND PHILOSOPHY OF SCIENCE - University credits: 3
Lessons: 20 hours
Unita' didattica B
M-FIL/02 - LOGIC AND PHILOSOPHY OF SCIENCE - University credits: 3
Lessons: 20 hours
Unita' didattica C
M-FIL/02 - LOGIC AND PHILOSOPHY OF SCIENCE - University credits: 3
Lessons: 20 hours
Tuesday 9.30-12.30, by appointment
Department of Philosophy, via Festa del Perdono 7, Cortile Ghiacciaia, top floor