Syllabus for Rational Decision Making COLL E105 Spring 2008 Valid HTML 4.01! — version 2008-01-08
COLL E105 — Rational Decision Making — Spring Semester 2008
Meeting times and locations: TR 12:20-1:10 Swain West (SW) 007; F discussion sections as enrolled
Instructor / Office Goodbody 113 / 855-8916
Colin Allen, Professor, Dept. of History & Philosophy of Science and Program in Cognitive Science
<> (office hours Tuesday after class and by appointment)
Asst. Instructors
Dr. Koray Karaca <> (office hours tba)
Grant Goodrich <> (Goodbody 005, office hrs by appointment)

Course Objectives

This course has two main goals:

  1. Content: To teach you how to think critically about reasoning and rationality by considering two different perspectives on reasoning, one descriptive (the study of how we actually do reason) and the other normative (the logic, mathematics, and philosophy of how we should reason).
  2. Skills: To help you develop scientific literacy, reasoning, and study skills that are foundational for success in a wide range of college courses.

Additionally, some of the things you will learn may help you convince your friends that you are smarter (or more rational?) than they are!

The key questions we will consider are: What is rationality? • Are humans rational? • Are humans the only rational animals? • Is science the most rational approach to knowledge? • Is it rational to believe in/do X? (for various Xs we'll cover in the course).


There is no text book for the course. Required readings and other items are online at IU's OnCourse system,

Grading Basis

A total of 400 points will be awarded during the semester, distributed as follows:

Reading assignments, classroom activities, & quizzes 100
Portfolio/writing project (several deadlines) 100
Midterm exam, March 4, Part A online, Part B in class 100
Final exam, Thursday May 1, 5:00-7:00 p.m. 100

Details of these assignments will be provided in class, and through OnCourse.

Attendance policy

This is not grade school and you are learning to become rational agents, so attendance will not be officially enforced. However, there will be approximately 50 (out of 400) points that are available only through activities in lecture or discussion throughout the semester. There will be no make up opportunities for unexcused absences.

In cases of excused absences, make up assignments will be provided. For predictable absences due to competitive events, required activities in other classes, etc., documentation must be provided at least two weeks prior to the absence. For genuine emergencies, illnesses, or deaths in the family, written documentation must be provided when you return to class. Accommodation for religious observances will be handled as described at (note that the form must be submitted by the student by the end of the second week of the semester to which the request applies). In all cases it will also be your responsibility to get missed notes and information from a classmate.

Statement for Students with Disabilities

The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) is a Federal anti-discrimination statute that provides comprehensive civil rights protection for persons with disabilities. Among other things, this legislation requires that all students with disabilities be guaranteed a learning environment that provides for reasonable accommodation of their disabilities. If you believe you have a disability requiring an accommodation, please contact IU Disability Services for Students.

Statement about Academic Misconduct
University rules concerning academic misconduct will be rigorously enforced in this class. See IU Code of Ethics, Part II for details. You will also be required to review materials and take the test at IU School of Education plagiarism tutorial.

Topics Schedule

This schedule may be altered in response to events in class.

The class is divided into 13 mini-modules, each spanning a weekend. Typically each topic will be through a classroom activity on Thursday, discussed in sections on Friday, and theoretically analyzed on Tuesday.

Tue Jan 08 Organization and Overview
Thu Jan 10
Fri Jan 11
Tue Jan 15
I. What is rationality?
Thu Jan 17
Fri Jan 18
Tue Jan 22
II. Are you logical?
Thu Jan 24
Fri Jan 25
Tue Jan 29
III. Are animals rational?
Thu Jan 31
Fri Feb 01
Tue Feb 05
IV. Rational stereotypes?
Thu Feb 07
Fri Feb 08
Tue Feb 12
V. Should you bet against infinity?
Thu Feb 14
Fri Feb 15
Tue Feb 19
VI. Are you a rational gambler?
Thu Feb 21
Fri Feb 22
Tue Feb 26
VII. Should you be a Bayesian?
Thu Feb 28
Fri Feb 29
Exam Review
Tue Mar 04 Mid term exam
Mar 10-14 Spring break
Tue Mar 18 VIII. Rational risks?
Thu Mar 20
Fri Mar 21
Tue Mar 25
IX. Are you a rational game player?
Thu Mar 27
Fri Mar 28
Tue Apr 01
X. Is your mind a bag of tricks?
Thu Apr 03
Fri Apr 04
Tue Apr 08
XI. Is science a rational process?
Thu Apr 10
Fri Apr 11
Tue Apr 15
XII. Is rational design detectable?
Thu Apr 17
Fri Apr 18
Tue Apr 22
XIII. Superstitious?
Thu Apr 24
Fri Apr 25
Exam Review
Thu May 01 Final Exam 5:00-7:00 p.m.