Advanced Interdisciplinary Courses


PPE's advanced interdisciplinary courses (PPE 4500+) are the highest level classes offered by the program for our majors. They offer advanced students a quasi-graduate environment inviting students to the frontiers of research. Classes are taught by interdisciplinary instructors, on interdisciplinary topics, reserved for PPE majors, and capped at 25 students. All PPE majors must take one to complete the major.

Note that you can take several of these courses to count towards your theme.

Course Goals

  1. Students should be able to accurately and clearly summarize a scholarly article. This requires basic understanding of the article's field, as well as the ability to write or speak clearly.

  2. Students should be able to raise and evaluate arguments on both sides of issues that an author has raised.

  3. Students should be able to criticize, without being unfair, without setting up straw men, and without neglecting possible counter-arguments to the criticism.

  4. Students should be able to give a presentation, effectively using visual aids as appropriate.

  5. Students should be able to synthesize readings into a position and defend that position against possible objections. They should know how to search efficiently for relevant literature.

Apart from our 4500+ Capstone courses, we also offer PPE 4000 courses, which are very small research-based seminars, capped at only 6 students. Topics change every year, depending on the projects and interests of our post doctoral researchers. Please see below, or check Path@Penn, for 4000 courses taught in the current semester.


Advanced Interdisciplinary Courses, Fall 2022

PPE 4000-301 Research in PPE: Doing Something Together (Marcon)

T 12:00 - 3:00 PM

How can a norm generate a motivational causal force that induces compliance with what it asserts, in contexts where selfish rather than prosocial behaviour would be expected? In this research class, we  will focus on the gap between the social and the private dimension, which has led to questioning whether there are moral norms whose content may constitute, per se, a sufficient reason for action. Well established social norms are one of the most crucial features that leads to conformist behaviour within some reference group: that is, one specific norm would require a certain type of behaviour, triggering a series of reciprocal expectations that motivate people to comply with what the norm claims. However, we still have the problem of understanding whether a norm, collectively chosen and shared, succeeds in self-imposing without any intervention of external authority.

Thus, the main aim of this course is to study and clarify the role played by commitments, agreements and expectations in order to get conformist behavior.


PPE 4601-301 Social Policy Capstone: Bioethics (Patel)

W 5:15 - 8:15 PM

This capstone seminar will cover a range of topics related to ethical issues surrounding the life sciences. We will consider the basic theories and principles of bioethics, as well as empirical and normative issues related to recent case studies from the biomedical literature. Specific questions we may consider include: How should we distribute scarce medical resources? What, if anything, is wrong with markets in women’s reproductive labor? What, if anything, is wrong with markets in human organs? Do prospective parents have a duty to adopt rather than have biological children? Do patients have the right to self-medicate? Are prescription requirements justified?  We will use core concepts from PPE to evaluate and answer these questions.


PPE 4700-301 Economics Capstone: The Potential of Altruism to Change Yourself and the World (Cordero)

M 12:00 - 3:00 PM

The standard model of human behavior on which economics and public policy are usually based is built on the assumption that people make choices to satisfy their own self-interest. While individualism, in its positive qualities, can lead to innovation and pushing beyond outdated dogmas, it can also lead to isolation and greed. Indeed, irresponsible selfishness is at the heart of many of the problems we face in the 21st Century, such as economic inequality, environmental devastation, and extreme violence. To overcome the urgent challenges of our time, we need an alternative model of human behavior based on a unifying concept that inspires the better angels of our nature. In this capstone seminar, we will critically explore the potential of altruism as a guiding principle to achieve a better life for ourselves and our global society. But what is altruism? What are its causes, conditions, and impediments? Can individuals become more altruistic, and if so, how? What would a society organized around the principle of altruism look like? And how can we achieve it? This course will combine tools from psychology, philosophy, and economics to address these questions and more.


PPE 4800-301 Psychology Capstone: The Foundations of Moral Decision-Making (Marcon)

W 12:00 - 3:00 PM

The course has two main objectives. The first is improving the ability of the student to understand how moral judgments are formed and to what extent this type of judgments, together with emotions and reasons, affect our decision-making process. Often what is defined as a mere irrational choice is the result of some strong emotional reaction, therefore moral psychology and experimental philosophy have attempted to clarify why people behave as they do in a very specific type of situation, namely the so-called moral dilemmas.

The second objective is to make students able to critically analyze different perspectives on the relationship between judgments and actions. To achieve this, it will be presented distinct approaches to decision theory: in particular we will focus on some recent applications and famous experimental case studies that take up traditional philosophical issues such as what makes moral actions right or wrong.


PPE 4800-302 Psychology Capstone: Modeling Choice Behavior (Bhatia)

R 1:45 - 4:45 PM

This course will examine mathematical and computational models of individual choice behavior. It will cover modeling techniques from psychology, cognitive science, neuroscience, and economics, and will apply these techniques to a range of diverse behavioral domains. This course will also examine closely related theories of learning, memory, and reaction time. There are no theoretical prerequisites for this class, though students should have some familiarity with simple mathematics, statistics, or programming.

Prerequisite: PPE 313


PPE 4800-303 Psychology Capstone: Unpacking the Black Box: Tackling Big Issues in Social and Behavioral Science Interventions (Lahiri)

T 3:30 – 6:30 PM

In this course, we will discuss some of the major issues surrounding real-world interventions in the social and behavioral sciences, with a focus on applied problems and solutions. Though we will not arrive at definitive answers to any of the problems, we will amass a set of conceptual and methodological tools to study these issues through an interdisciplinary applied lens. We will discuss a range of interdisciplinary tools and frameworks that help us understand, evaluate, and interrogate the utility of such interventions. Rather than delving into the technical details of each of the methods discussed in the course, we will instead focus on understanding their essential components and how they have been applied in diverse fields.


PPE 4802-301 Social Psychology Capstone: Obedience (Royzman)

R 1:45 - 4:45 PM

Though almost half a century old, Milgram’s 1961-1962 studies of “destructive obedience” continue to puzzle, fascinate, and alarm. The main reason for their continued grip on the field’s attention (other than the boldness of the idea and elegance of execution) may be simply that they leave us with a portrait of human character that is radically different from the one that we personally wish to endorse or that the wider culture teaches us to accept. In this seminar, we will take an in-depth look at these famous studies (along with the more recent replications) and explore their various psychological, political and philosophical ramifications. 

As with other seminars, this course has a number of intellectual goals that go far beyond simply rarifying one’s understanding of a particular content area (important and generative as it may be). One such a goal is to enable you to think critically (though not disparagingly) about other people’s research and theoretical claims that ensue from it, all with the hope that you can then apply the self-same critical acumen to your own future work. Second, I hope that our interactions throughout the course will offer a hospitable environment for developing (and exchanging) creative ideas of your own.  Your work on your individual reaction papers and on the term paper in particular will be a key element in achieving this goal. Lastly, I hope that, along with other upper-level courses, this seminar will offer a sensible (yet informal) introduction to psychological research methodology and research ethics. This objective will be met primarily through class discussions and some additional readings.  


Previous Advanced Interdisciplinary Courses