PHEB703 Utilitarianism and Rational Choice Theory


The main idea of the course is to trace out the common root of utilitarianism and rationality as well as the gradual emancipation of rationality from their common ancestry in the XX century. The utilitarianism is generally considered as a theory of the morally right action (the action that produces the most good): Bentham, Mill, Sidgwick etc. This course discusses the idea of economic rationality and its repercussions in sociology and social sciences. The rational choice theory is tackled as a specific development of the utilitarian idea. Specific emphasis is put on the principle criticisms at and the alternatives of the formalized idea of rationality.

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Assoc. Prof. Hristo Gyoshev, PhD
Prof. Kolyo Koev, DSc

Course Description:


After completing successfully this course the students will:

1) know:

The utilitarianism as an approach to normative ethics and generally as moral philosophy

The main stages of its development

The key discussions on rationality in the Philosophy, Economics and Sociology

2) are capable of:

Interpreting the role of utilitarianism in Philosophy, Economy, and Everyday Life

Discussing the genetic chain from utilitarianism to rationalism

Critically handle the different viewpoints on rationality in contemporary philosophy and sociology
General knowledge in the field of History of Philosophy and History of Sociology

Full-time Programmes

Types of Courses:

Language of teaching:


  1. Utilitarianism as an Approach to Normative Ethics in the History of Philosophy
  2. Utilitarianism and Everyday Life
  3. Proto-utilitarian Positions. Hobbes’ Thought Experiment. Precursors of the Classical Approach: the British Moralists
  4. The Classical Approach: J. Bentham, J. Stuart-Mill, H. Sidgwick
  5. Twentieth-century Developments: the so-called “Ideal Utilitarianism” (G. E. Moore)
  6. Rationality: Meanings in Philosophy, Economics, Sociology.
  7. Max Weber’s Understanding of Rationality: Formal and Material Rationality
  8. Rationality in Economic Life. Utility Maximisation. Homo Oeconomicus
  9. Subjective Meaning in Economic Life: Marginal Utility Theory
  10. Individual and Collective Rationality. Game Theory and Rationality. Prisoner’s Dilemma
  11. Rational Choice: Available Contexts and Individual Preferences. Gary Becker’s Model
  12. The “Pathologies of Rational Choice Theory”: Donald P. Green and Ian Shapiro
  13. P. Bourdieu’s Criticism: the Economic Field Perspective


Becker, G. The Economic Approach to Human Behavior. University of Chicago Press: Chicago, 1976

Bichieri, Cr. Rationality and Coordination. Cambridge University Press: Cambridge, 1993

Bourdieu, P. The Social Structures of the Economy. Polity Press: Cambridge, 2005

Coleman, J. Foundations of Social Theory. Belknap of Harvard University Press: Cambridge, 1990

Elster, J. Marxism, Functionalism, and Game Theory: A Case for Methodological Individualism. In: D. Matravers and E, Pike (eds). Theory and Society. Routledge: London, 2003

Green, D. and Ian Shappiro. Pathologies of Rational Choice Theory: A Critique of Applications in Political Science. Yale University Press: New York, 1994

Hume, D. A Treatise of Human Nature. Oxford University Press; Oxford, 2000

Gill, M. The British Moralists on Human Nature and the Birth of Secular Ethics. Cambridge University Press: New York, 2006

Mill, J. Stuart. Utilitarianism. Roger Crisp (ed.), Oxford University Press: Oxford, 1998

Moore, G. E. Principia Ethica. Prometheus Books: New York, 1988.

Rapoport, A and A. M. Chammah. Prisonner’s Dilemma. University of Michigan Press: Michigan, 1965

Searle, J. Rationality in Action. MIT Press: Cambridge, 2003

Sen, A. Rationality and Freedom. Harvard University Press: Harvard, 2004

Schofield, Ph. Utility and Democracy: the Political Thought of Jeremy Bentham. Oxford University Press: Oxford, 2006