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, Spring 2021

PPE 402-301: Research in PPE: Norm Building in Exceptional Environments (Tasch)

SEM: R 5-8 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 402-302: Research in PPE: Social Mobility and Inequality (Berger)

SEM: R 4:30-7:30 PM 

This research seminar looks to select between four and five motivated and hard-working students to contribute original research on the topic of inequality in America. Inequality is one of the most pressing political topics of the moment, with every aspiring presidential candidate discussing this seminal issue. Building off a grant, we will look at original survey data to generate conjectures about inequality in political life and its relevance to the extant literature in Political Science. Students are expected to be willing to commit to a Fall and Spring sequence, as the ultimate ambition will be to publish our findings in a peer-reviewed publication.

This two semester course offers a wonderful opportunity to conduct collaborative research in a low-stakes setting, with the end-goal of securing a publication. This course also counts towards any PPE Thematic Concentration, fulfilling a Capstone requirement.


PPE 402-303: Research in PPE: Institutions and Development (Patel)

SEM: F 2-5 PM

This research seminar will cover a range of topics related to the political economy of institutions and development. We will consider the theoretical, empirical, and normative underpinnings of both formal and informal institutions and the role they play in social and economic development in the developing world. Specific questions we may consider include: What is the relationship between formal and informal institutions? How do institutions structure interactions between individuals so as to secure welfare gains from cooperation and coordination? Why do some communities overcome collective action problems to produce optimal social and economic outcomes, while others fail? We will use core concepts from PPE to evaluate and answer these questions


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

SEM: R 4:30-7:30 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. Specific questions we may consider 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 471-301 Political Economy - Informal Institutions (Danese)

SEM: W 5-8 PM

Institutions are all around us: they are the laws, informal rules, and conventions that render interactions with other people less uncertain and more durable (Bowles). We will focus our attention on the informal rules that close-knit communities have developed to (i) manage common-pool resources (Ostrom), (ii) solve conflicts arising in simple workaday affairs (Ellickson). We will also discuss the relationship between social norms, Pigovian taxes, and Coasean bargaining, in societies in which regulation of behavior through all these three mechanisms is conceivable. 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 will present their reflection to the class. 


PPE 471-302 Political Economy - Money, Credit, and Debt (Danese)

SEM: T 3-6 PM

The ultimate facilitator of economic transactions, money has been the subject of intense scrutiny in the social sciences. Once tied to a hard “bullion,” nowadays money is essentially sustained by expectations about the intentions of its issuer. In this course, we are going to explore the question of what is money, and how it arose. We will also debate the proper scope of monetary policy, and the effects of the "monetization of everything" on social life. We will be relying on some of the classic authors in these debates (Mitchell Innes, Knapp, Simmel, Mises), as well as the recent literature from anthropology and social ontology (Graeber's Debt, Ferraris, Searle, Lawson, Harari). We will end with a discussion of the (nowadays fashionable) “Modern Monetary Theory" (or MMT).  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 - Social Preferences and Social Norms (Tasch)

SEM: R 1:30-4:30 PM

Social preferences play an important role in political, economic and social environments. Despite the attention paid to negative behaviors, societies rely on norms of honesty, fairness, and trust—these positive features of human behavior form the foundation of a healthy market economy. We will discuss the ways that social preferences can help to explain the connection between relative income and happiness, relative earnings and job satisfaction, and their grounding for generosity and empathy impulses in individuals. Further, we will discuss how social preferences can be a useful tool to promote prosocial behaviors, such as the reduction of water and energy consumption and to increase political participation by encouraging voting. This course will help you to acquire the applied tools and practice important for understanding and critiquing recent scholarly articles in this field. Further, you will develop and evaluate arguments from multiple perspectives, and design an applicable project that addresses your research questions concerning social norms.


PPE 478 Inequality: An interdisciplinary perspective (Aldama Navarrete)

SEM: TR 10:30-12 NOON

In this advanced undergraduate seminar we will study the economic, political, and psychological consequences of inequality. In particular, one of the main aims of the course will be to understand the mechanisms through which people demand more or less redistribution. In doing so we will pay close attention to distinguish between actual inequality and people’s perceptions of it. Using both classic and recent scholarly literature from these three fields, we will analyze what shapes perceptions of inequality and how these, in turn, shape policy preferences.


PPE 481 Political SciencE: Trust and Uncertainties (Berger)

SEM: T 1:30-4:30 PM

Why do we trust some people and not others? What signals give us reason to trust some brands or products more than others? How can technology be used to build a more trusting world? Trust is a foundational feature of the decisions we regularly undertake and turns largely on the kinds of uncertainty that we encounter. This course will provide background on the different types of trust we elicit and the motivational conditions that bring these expectations about.


PPE 482 Psychology: Modelling Choice Behavior (Bhatia)

SEM: R 1:30-4:30 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.


Previous Advanced Interdisciplinary Courses