History And Philosophy Of Science | Rational Decision Making
E105 | 0229 | Noretta Koertge


One of  the secrets to a good life is making good decisions.  But how
is that to be done?  Sometimes we seem able to weigh up the pros and
cons of the various options open to us.  Other times we procrastinate
and dither and may even end up tossing a coin or Tarot cards.  In this
course we look at two types of basic research on decision making.  We
begin with a field of study called Rational Choice Theory that
attempts to describe the procedures which people should use in making
decisions.  Philosophers and economists working in this area raise
some very interesting issues concerning the proper role of values,
including moral values, and the best ways to deal with uncertainty and
risk.  Next we look at results coming from a field called Behavioral
Decision Theory which describes the guidelines and heuristics that
ordinary people actually use when they make decisions.  Cognitive
psychologists and researchers interested in policy studies and
marketing are especially interested in trying to analyze and explain
the differences between the decision strategies that in theory appear
to be most rational and the strategies that we tend to adopt in
practice.  There will be short assignments that are due each week at
the time of the discussion section.  Often you will need to submit
answers to sets of problems posted on the web that are designed to
illustrate the concepts introduced in lecture.  There will also be a
few assignments that ask you to analyze an actual case study in a one
or two page essay.  The grade will be based on four exams and an
average of the weekly assignments.  Regular attendance is required.
This course most likely does not overlap much with material that you
had in high school and since it is multi-disciplinary in approach, you
are likely to find at least some parts of it pretty interesting.  It
should be easy for most students and not require huge amounts of time
if one comes to class regularly and does the problem sets each week.
The study habits required are those appropriate for a science course
or a course in foreign language.