History and Philosophy Of Science | Rational Decision Making
E105 | 26081 | Colin Allen


Rational Decision Making

One of the secrets to a good life is making good decisions. But what
do we understand about the reasoning that underlies good decision
making? There are two general ways to study decision making. One is
the attempt to formulate rules of logic or mathematics that we
*should* follow.  The other looks at ways people actually *do* make
decisions. Psychologists following the second approach have
described many surprising ways in which people fail to live up to
the standards of logic or mathematics. Do these discoveries show
that people are fundamentally irrational, or do these apparent
failures tell us something about how we manage to succeed in a
complex world?

The course is divided into six modules that look at different
puzzles which arise for understanding human reasoning.  We will
consider ways in which individual rationality may lead to collective
inefficiency. We will look at the  role of logic and mathematics in
understanding both biological intelligence and artificial
intelligence.  We will consider evolutionary explanations for why we
make fewer mistakes in some domains than we do in others.   We shall
investigate parallels between scientific reasoning and the reasoning
of young children as they develop theories about the world. Students
will be expected to learn some very basic elements of formal
deduction, probability theory, and game theory.  We will also
consider alternatives to formal models of reasoning such as
heuristics.  And we will look at the question of whether human
beings are the only rational animals.

The course will be divided into six, two-week modules.  Each module
will include some on-line activities and classroom exercises.
Grades will be based on participation in classroom and online
activities, short quizzes for each module, a midterm exam, and a
final.