Duke University Political Science

What is PPE? The purpose of the Joint UNC-Duke Philosophy, Politics, and Economics Program

Economic and political theory, and their philosophical foundations, have in several important ways become increasingly interdisciplinary. First, without concern to boundaries, economists, political scientists and philosophers of science have become absorbed by the same questions about the explanatory and predictive powers of a set of approaches which the three disciplines share to varying degrees: rational choice, simulation and modeling, equilibrium analysis. At the same time, work in welfare economics, the design and management of political institutions, and the investigation of principles of political philosophy have converged on a small number of issues (such as distributive justice, the nature and role of rights, political obligation) at the intersection of all three disciplines. And both of these trends in the descriptive and normative dimensions of the three disciplines have already had substantial ramifications for work in every other part of all three disciplines’ separate agendas. The most reasonable expectation is that these impacts will be greater, not smaller, as the disciplines progress in the future.

However, undergraduate education has become “departmentalized,” because of splits in research activities of the faculties. Consequently, these interdisciplinary developments in economics, politics and philosophy, have so far had little impact in the education of undergraduates in these disciplines, even at institutions that emphasize interdisciplinary work such as Duke and UNC do. Yet when you leave college, and pursue a career in public policy, law, health care, or management, you will find that the world may not conform to the boundaries of academic disciplines. Even if you return to the academy as a graduate students, you will be better able to compare, and understand, contributions that cross those boundaries.  The Duke-UNC PPE program crosses the local institutional boundaries that separate the universities, the disciplinary boundaries that separate departments, and the intellectual silos that prevent the cross-fertilization of ideas and discussion.

For this reason, faculty in these disciplines have developed a certificate program that will both enable students in political science, economics, or philosophy to integrate, synthesize and exploit the most exciting research in the fields that comprise these three disciplines.

Besides providing a common framework within which students from the three disciplines can integrate and deploy what they learn in their respective majors on broader issues that intersect them, the program will enable them to assess the scope and limits of their major disciplines. For example, economics students may learn something from positive political theory about the design of institutions that cope with market failure, philosophy students may learn from economics about the incentive effects of various schemes of distributive justice, and political science students may learn from economics and philosophy something about the strengths and limits of various normative principles for the evaluation of public and private policy. Students in such a program who go on to law school, business school, or graduate school in one of these fields, will bring to their further education a stronger basis for jurisprudence, a deeper appreciation of the explanatory and predictive powers of financial economics, and the bearing of rational choice theory on human institutions and human behavior. The program is also intended to have a similar benefit for students in other majors. Students in disciplines as diverse as molecular biology, ecology, biomedical engineering, or psychology and sociology, or for that matter history, religion, and cultural anthropology, can expect to face professional problems which combine normative and positive dimensions. Students in these disciplines who have integrated their economics, politics and philosophy courses in the way this program envisions will be equipped to deal with such problems more successfully.

The PPE Program at Duke is a Certificate Program, and is mirrored by a PPE Program at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, which offers a Minor.  Students pursuing either the minor at Chapel Hill or the certificate at Duke can take courses at the other school to meet the relevant requirements.  Information about UNC's program is available here: http://ppe.unc.edu/

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