Philosophy of Economics

A.Y. 2020/2021
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
Second semester
During the ongoing covid emergency, the course syllabus will be maintained with the following changes to enhance the effectiveness of the online version of the course, which was originally designed for face-to-face teaching.
Online environments used:
MSTeams: code available on Ariel

Teaching methods:
Classes will be held according to the following risk scenarios:
- maximum severity (red zone): classes will be held only remotely in synchronous mode (using MSTeams)
- high severity (orange zone): lessons will be held in mixed mode, partly in person and partly online. the face-to-face lessons will allow the participation of students connected with MSTeams as well as students in the classroom. Online lessons will be held synchronously (using MSTeams)
- severity (yellow zone): classes will be held according with the orange zone guidelines and, if conditions allow, the number of lessons on campus will be increased.
The calendar of in person lessons and updates will be published on the online course platform.

Learning assessment procedures and evaluation criteria:
The exam is written and is held on Teams / SEB in any emergency situation, whether yellow, orange or red zone, in compliance with the guidelines provided by the University. The online course on Ariel will provide constantly updated details about the examination sessions.
Students wishing to participate in face-to-face lessons must refer to the following University provisions:…
Students wishing to participate in MSTeams lessons must refer to the following technical guides:…
To participate in the exam sessions, students must refer to the following provisions:…
Course syllabus
- The problem of induction
- Models and realism
- Testing, prediction, and refutation
- Efficiency and preference satisfaction
- Distributive justice: primary goods, freedoms, and capabilities
- The moral limits of markets
Prerequisites for admission
None, but basic knowledge of philosophy of science and/or microeconomics may be of some help
Teaching methods
Lectures, 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 ( Students can request an alternative bibliography in Italian; working on the original texts, however, is highly recommended.
· 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%). In the essay the students will demonstrate knowledge of a methodological problem of contemporary economics, and capacity to illustrate it independently and critically, using appropriately the relevant literature. The written exam is aimed at assessing knowledge and capacity to illustrate independently and critically a key problem in contemporary normative economics.
Unita' didattica A
SECS-P/01 - ECONOMICS - University credits: 3
Lessons: 20 hours
Unita' didattica B
SECS-P/01 - ECONOMICS - University credits: 3
Lessons: 20 hours
Unita' didattica C
SECS-P/01 - ECONOMICS - University credits: 3
Lessons: 20 hours
Educational website(s)
Tuesday 9.30-12.30, by appointment
Department of Philosophy, via Festa del Perdono 7, Cortile Ghiacciaia, top floor