Philosophy at LSE is particularly well-known for its social relevance.  Here are three MSc courses that will allow you to participate in this aspect of LSE-style philosophy. New MSc students are welcome to sit in on the first lecture before deciding if they’d like to take a course.

Ph456 Rationality and Choice (Prof. Richard Bradley)

Programme Description

This course examines the theory of rationality and rational decision making. It is in two parts

(i) Probability and Decision: Probabilistic thinking, different interpretations of probability, decision making under risk, ignorance and uncertainty, the measurement of belief and desire, paradoxes of expected utility theory.

(ii) Game Theory and Social Choice: Solution concepts for games, backward induction and hypothetical reasoning, bargaining theory, Arrow’s Theorem, the Gibbard-Satterthwaite theorem, interpersonal comparability and Utilitarianism.

PH458 Evidence and Policy (Prof. John Worrall)

Programme Description

Good policy decisions — whether concerning climate, conservation, international development, poverty, education, medicine, health, or whatever — require a rationally-based view of whether the proposed policy will (or is likely to) bring about the intended outcome: will reducing CO2 emissions reduce global warming? will mass mammography decrease deaths from breast cancer? will reducing class sizes enhance scholastic achievement?

The obvious suggestion is that such views are rationally-based just in case they are based on evidence. Reducing class sizes, for example, is a good policy for enhancing scholastic achievement just in case there is evidence that the policy works.

But what counts as evidence? What happens when different kinds of evidence pull in opposite directions? Are certain types of evidence more telling than others? And if so, why? Does evidence that the policy works in one country mean that we should have confidence that it will work in another country?

These are the central issues addressed in this course. It might seem initially that only experts, only scientists involved in the field, can tell what counts as good evidence. But this is not true. You can learn how to be ‘evidence-savvy’, how to ask the right questions about evidence, without needing to know the detailed science involved.

Very few, if any, policies are guaranteed always to work in every member of the population to which they are applied. Nearly always the issue is whether the policy will increase the probablity that the desired outcome will occur: is it probable that mass mammography will reduce breast cancer deaths? is it probable that reducing CO2 emissions to extent x will decrease global warming to extent y? will making drug D for condition C available on the NHS have a positive effect on the average outcome (i.e. not for every patient suffering from C but probabilistically)? So an important part of the course will be involved with probabilities, statistics, risk-assessment and the like.

PH459 Governing Knowledge: Foundational Issues in Science Policy (Dr. Peter Dennis)

Programme Description

Policy makers typically take an interest in three aspects of scientific activity: agenda (What should be researched?); ethics (Which research practices should be permitted?); and dissemination (How should the results of research be made available?).

We’ll investigate the extent to which policy makers should be allowed to exert influence in these areas, and what good policies might look like in each case. Topics include (inter alia) democracy and peer review; privatisation; ‘useless’ and ‘forbidden’ knowledge; clinical equipoise; science teaching in schools; and the role of public intellectuals.