Center for Philosophy, Politics, and Economics

Academics

A Tradition of Pluralism
Brown University has a long and distinguished tradition of pluralism. While other Ivy League schools were founded on religious charters, Brown was different from the start. Brown’s Charter of 1764 states:

“ It is hereby enacted and declared that into this liberal and catholic institution shall never be admitted any religious tests: But, on the contrary, all the members hereof shall forever enjoy full, free, absolute and uninterrupted liberty of conscience. ”

THE BROWN CHARTER OF 1764

In 1969, the students who devised the New Curriculum had a similar idea: Instead of one mandated curriculum imposed upon all, they insisted that, at Brown, each student should be free to experiment and devise a unique path of study for themselves. 

The PPE Center is proud to carry on this tradition at Brown today. While we recognize the importance of disciplinary expertise, the complex and multi-faceted problems facing the world today benefit from a more interdisciplinary analysis. Even rigorous social scientific analysis must confront pressing and difficult normative questions and tradeoffs. Normative theorists likewise must understand well-established social scientific facts and accurately consider a wide range of existing economic, social, and political processes. As both a substantive topic but also as a methodological approach, PPE brings the best of the old, and some of the most important of the new, academic disciplines into conversation. This is reflected in our core faculty members and postdoctoral fellows who teach each semester. Their courses are typically offered in Philosophy, Political Science, and Economics.

This interdisciplinary course provides an overview of some of the core conceptual tools used to analyze issues at the intersection of philosophy, politics, and economics (PPE). A range of theoretical topics are covered, including: game theory, property, markets, distributive justice, public choice theory, voting, and more. We will read classical and contemporary sources on these topics as well as explore their applications to contemporary social problems (including: climate change, healthcare rationing, price gouging, universal basic income, pharmaceutical regulations, and others). 

Course Syllabus

Slow economic growth, controversial policy, and over a decade of continuous war have led many to question the extent to which government is a force for the common good. Blame is often assigned to specific politicians or ideological perspectives. Public choice economics instead analyzes the incentive structure within which political decisions take place, seeking to uncover the forces guiding the behavior of voters, legislators, judges, and other political agents. This course will examine the insights and limitations of the public choice perspective in the context of electoral politics, legislation, bureaucracy and regulation, and constitutional rules.

Course Syllabus

This course covers major debates in the 20th century political economy, starting with the Bolshevik Revolution and the Treatise of Versailles. We examine the Great Depression, the New Deal, and Postwar economic planning in the US and UK. We then turn to consider important periods in the second half of the 20th century, including Indian Economic Planning, Bretton Woods, and inflation in the 1970s. The course ends with a consideration of trade, trade deficits, sovereign debt crises, and austerity. The aim is to develop an understanding of both sides of key debates in political economy.

Course Syllabus

This course covers the history of economics and economic thinking from foundational classical ideas, to the marginal revolution, and through the first half of the 20th century. We will begin by examining some classical precursors before turning to the marginal revolution and development of neoclassical ideas on value, production, competition, and equilibrium analysis. The aim will be to develop an understanding of the origin and evolution of central concepts in economic theory, as well as examine methodological disputes over positivism and formalism. We will end with a discussion of the relevance of these ideas for contemporary economics. Prerequisite intermediate microeconomics (Econ 1110 or 1130).

Course Syllabus

We stand at a precipice. The decisions we make now may significantly impact how the future of humanity will unfold---and whether there is a future for humanity at all. This course surveys important social, political, and ethical issues regarding our present moment (e.g., climate change, AI safety, etc.), and delves into philosophical issues underlying our concern for the future of humanity. What do we owe future generations? Do we have an obligation to ensure that humanity avoids extinction? Do considerations about the long-term future outweigh present concerns? And how should we evaluate the long-term future, given how uncertain it is?

This class provides an introduction to topics in political economy with a focus on using basic models to understand both individuals and groups facing a variety of social dilemmas. Simple formal models will provide a framework for understanding problems in politics and political economy, including the collective action problem, prisoner’s dilemma, coordination problems, and more generally the importance of formal and informal institutions in guiding social outcomes. The class surveys major thinkers in political economy and uses their ideas to understand major changes in society, markets, and states from an historical perspective.

Course Syllabus

Will examine relationships and interactions among institutions, criminal actors, and violence. State-based institutions play an important role in explaining the level of disorganized or organized crime. Organized crime groups, in turn, influence both state-based institutions (for example, through corrupting officials) and other criminal activity, often by creating the “rules of the game” by which other criminals can act. Finally, both state-based and criminal actors and institutions influence the level of violence in society. Each of these three influences, and is influenced by, the others. This course offers the opportunity to better understand how these three factors relate to each other.

Course Syllabus