Philosophy of the social sciences

A.Y. 2020/2021
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
Teaching methods:
Pre-recorded videolectures, to cover weekly topics. Once a week, a revision and Q&A meeting using the Teams platform.
Study material: no variations
The essay will not change. The written exam will have the form of a "take-home exam" to be prepared within a given time frame.
Course syllabus
- Individualism and rational choice theory
- 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
The final list of material can be found on the Ariel website of the course. Among the main texts:
* Weber, M. (1921) "The Interpretive Understanding of Social Action", in Readings in the Philosophy of the Social Sciences, edited by M. Brodbeck. Macmillan, pp. 19-33.
* Guala, F. (2016) Understanding Institutions, Princeton University Press, Ch. 2 ("Games")
* Lewis, D. (1969) Convention. Blackwell, selected paragraphs from Chs. 1 and 2.
* Peterson, M. (ed. 2015) The Prisoner's Dilemma. Cambridge University Press (Introduction).
* Handout on Repeated Games
* 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 University Press.
* Frank, R. H. (1988) Passions within Reason, Norton (Ch.3: "A Theory of Moral Sentiments")
* Alexander, J. M. (2019) "Evolutionary Game Theory", Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy [online], especially sections 1,2,3,5.
* Okasha, S., (2013) "Biological Altruism", Stanford Encyclopedia of Philoso-phy…
* 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.
* Searle, J. (2005) "What Is an Institution?", Journal of Institutional Economics 1: 1-22
* Guala, F. and Hindriks, F. (2015) "A Unified Social Ontology", Philosophical Quarterly 165 (2015): 177-201.

For non-attending students:
* Hempel, C. G. (1942) "The Function of General Laws in History", Journal of Philosophy, 39: 35-48.
* Goldman, A. I. (1989) "Interpretation Psychologized", Mind & Language 4: 161-185.
* 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]
* Anand, P. (1993) "The Philosophy of Intransitive Preference". Economic Journal 103: 337-346.
* Cohen, L. J. (1981) "Can Human Irrationality Be Experimentally Demonstrated?" Behavioral and Brain Sciences 4: 317-331.
* Sen, A. K. (1977) "Rational Fools: A Critique of the Behavioral Foundations of Economic Theory." Philosophy & Public Affairs, 317-344.
* McClennen, E. F. (1997) "Pragmatic Rationality and Rules". Philosophy & Public Affairs 26: 210-258.
Assessment methods and Criteria
Written exam. The exam will assess students' knowledge of the main models of rational choice and their application to explain social phenomena. It will also assess students' capacity to illustrate critically and independently their conceptual and empirical limitations.
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