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Unit information: Probability and Rationality in 2016/17

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Unit name Probability and Rationality
Unit code PHIL30078
Credit points 20
Level of study H/6
Teaching block(s) Teaching Block 2 (weeks 13 - 24)
Unit director Dr. Everett
Open unit status Not open




School/department Department of Philosophy
Faculty Faculty of Arts


The concept of probability gives rise to deep and interesting philosophical questions. Moreover, many philosophers believe that probability theory can shed light on traditional problems in epistemology and metaphysics. This course provides a philosophical introduction to probability theory, and shows how probability can be used to help understand the nature of rational belief, rational action, and causation. Questions to be discussed from the following: Is probability an objective feature of reality, or is it a concept that we are forced to use because of our epistemic limitations? Is there more than one concept of probability? Can probability theory help solve the problem of induction? Does probability theory provide constraints on a rational person's degrees of belief? What is the relationship between probability and causality?

Intended learning outcomes

On successful completion of this unit students will have:

(1) developed a sophisticated knowledge of and acquired an in-depth understanding of the central debates and positions in Bayesian epistemology, including the notion of degrees of belief, subjective probability, and confirmation theory.

(2) gained familiarity with the central contemporary literature on these debates and positions;

(3) developed skills in the researching, reading and presentation of complex material, on these debates and positions, as appropriate to Level-H.

Teaching details

11 one-hour lectures + 11 one-hour seminars

Assessment Details

Formative: one 2500 word essay designed to test the intended learning outcomes.

Summative: one 3-hour unseen exam designed to test the intended learning outcomes.

Reading and References

Eriksson, Lina and Alan Hájek, “What Are Degrees of Belief?” Studia Logica, 86, (2007), 183-213.

Jeffrey, Richard, The Logic of Decision, 2nd ed., Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1983.

Skyrms, Brian, The Dynamics of Rational Deliberation, Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1990.