Advanced Interdisciplinary Courses


PPE's advanced interdisciplinary courses (PPE 470-490) 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 20 students. All PPE majors must take one to complete the major.

Note that you can take several of these courses counting them towards your theme so long as one fulfills the major's capstone requirement. You cannot double count courses in major.

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 470+ Capstone courses, we are now offering several PPE 402 courses, which are very small research-based seminars, capped at only 5 students. Topics change every year, depending on the projects and interests of our faculty. Please see below, or check Penn in Touch, for 402 courses taught in the current semester.


Advanced Interdisciplinary Courses, Fall 2021

PPE 402 Research in PPE: The Gift (Danese)

SEM: W 1:45 - 4:45 PM

The exchanging of gifts constitutes an ideal ground for testing different theories of human motivation -- the rational, social, cultural and political "ideal types" discussed by sociologists and anthropologists. We will start reading two key books on gift exchange, Malinowski's Argonauts and Mauss's The Gift. We will then proceed to the copious secondary literature on Mauss and Malinowski, and to some modern application of the gift paradigm. Questions we will ask include: Are gifts as free and disinterested as we think? Can gifts build and structure economies? How do gifts differ from ordinary commodities we acquire in the marketplace? Why do we believe that intimacy, organs, blood, children should be given as a gift but not purchased as an ordinary commodity? Why do we rarely give cash gifts? Classes will be seminar-style discussions on the readings. Attendance is mandatory at all meetings unless other arrangements have been made with the instructor. 


PPE 470 Social Policy - Philosophy and Public Policy (Patel)

SEM: T 5:15 - 8:15 PM

This capstone seminar will aim to assess a range of topics at the intersection of philosophy and public policy. We will consider conceptual and normative issues related to the operation of particular markets, failures of political and economic institutions in the developing world, and questions about distributive justice and equality. We will also consider some contemporary problems in public policy, such as justifications of various immigration policies, competing conceptions of public health, and reparations for America’s war on drugs. Specific questions we will cover include: Are some markets morally impermissible? Are sweatshops exploitative? Why is corruption harmful? What is a just distribution of income and wealth? We will use core concepts from PPE to evaluate and answer these questions.


PPE 470 Social Policy - Corruption & Development (Patel)

SEM: W 5:15 - 8:15 PM

This capstone seminar will cover a range of topics related to the political economy of corruption and development. We will consider theoretical, empirical, and normative issues related to the failures and successes of social, political, and economic institutions around the world (with an emphasis on the Global South). Specific questions we may consider include: What, if anything, is wrong with corruption? How do some markets (such as vote markets) operate despite seemingly insurmountable transaction costs? What is the relationship between formal and informal institutions, and what role does the character of such institutions play in the determination of social and political outcomes? We will use core concepts from PPE to evaluate and answer these questions.


PPE 471 Political Economy - Organizations (Danese)

SEM: W 8:30 - 11:30 AM

In this course, we are going to discuss questions such as: In a market economy, why do we observe entities such as business companies, non-profit organizations, cooperatives, etc? What is the purpose of authority and hierarchy in organizations? Is there a hybrid choice of organization between market exchanges and hierarchical organizations? To answer those questions, we will mainly draw from New Institutional Economics, the school of thought on organizations initiated by Ronald Coase and Oliver Williamson. By the end of this course, you will be able to discuss how transaction costs, capabilities, uncertainty, authority, and responsibility shape the choice among discrete governance structures for transactions and the boundaries of such structures. Attendance is mandatory at all meetings unless other arrangements have been made with the instructor; students are expected to submit a weekly written reflection on the assigned reading and to present their weekly reflection to the class.


PPE 474: Judgment and Decision - Norm Building in Exceptional Environments (Tasch)

SEM: F 1:45 - 4:45 PM

In this course, we will explore the opportunities, risks, and tensions associated with facilitating a healthy Arctic, as global climate change alters its environment and consequent political-economic processes respond. Facilitating the Arctic’s healthy future is not limited to understanding the competitive and cooperative interactions among the five coastal nations located within the Arctic Circle. The Arctic’s natural resources, for example, could be conceptualized as public goods by nations located beyond the Arctic Circle, including China, India, Japan, Italy, and South Korea. Strategies involving prosocial signaling by contribution (counting on others’ information seeking behavior), and inducing reciprocity (exchanging aid for access to resources) can all be used to “normalize” the Arctic’s future in favor of a particular stakeholder. In empirical studies and laboratory experiments we will investigate key questions that inform how the “exceptional Arctic” is being “tamed” to fit into an overarching and already existing legal, economic, and environmental system. 


PPE 477 Social Psychology: Obedience (Royzman)

SEM: 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.  


PPE 482 Psychology: The Foundations of Moral Decision-Making (Marcon)

SEM: F 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 483 Economics: Fairness and Altruism (Dillenberger)

SEM: R 3:30 - 6:30 PM

The course is designed to be an integrative experience, drawing on knowledge from economics and psychology to understand the role of fairness in behavior. PPE 311/ECON 013 is a strict pre-requisite for this course.

Previous Advanced Interdisciplinary Courses