New Subject at Swarthmore: Philosophy, Politics, and Economics (PPE)

Editor’s note: This article was initially published in The Daily Gazette, Swarthmore’s online, daily newspaper founded in Fall 1996. As of Fall 2018, the DG has merged with The Phoenix. See the about page to read more about the DG.

Swarthmore College may soon offer a new minor: Philosophy, Politics, and Economics (PPE). During pre-registration last week, some students discovered a new course being offered through the Philosophy department — Introduction to PPE (PHIL 004). According to Political Science Professor Ben Berger, more than 25 students pre-registered for the Introduction to PPE course. The course will be taught by Philosophy Emeritus Professor Hans Oberdiek in the fall.

This year, the departments of Philosophy, Political Science, and Economics collectively approved a PPE minor. However, despite having all three departments’ approval, the PPE program needs faculty approval to be offered as a minor at the College.

“It is not a done deal until and unless the Curriculum Committee and the faculty approve of a PPE interdisciplinary committee, which can then offer the minor. While I have strong hopes that eventually it will be approved, the issue might not come up for a vote this semester. The faculty has the final say,” Berger wrote in an email.

The proposed course requirements include:

  • A gateway (PHIL 004) and capstone course
  • Introduction to Economics (ECON 001) prior to or concurrent with PHIL 004
  • A quantitative methodology course (STAT 11 or equivalent)
  • Balanced coursework in the three member departments

“The basic idea is much like that of the recently decommissioned Public Policy program, but with the important addition of philosophical analysis and rigor, and less of a required emphasis on formal public policy,” Berger wrote.

The University of Oxford is the first institution to offer the subject in 1920. Designed as the modern alternative to classics, it has produced many famous graduates, ranging from British Prime Minister David Cameron, writer Christopher Hitchens, to Nobel Peace Laureate Aung San Suu Kyi.

In the United States, PPE is offered at large institutions like Duke University and the University of Pennsylvania, to small liberal arts colleges like Pomona College and Wesleyan University.  For Swarthmore, Berger wants the PPE program to have an element of   community engagement, probably with the help of the capstone exercise.

“PPE rising seniors would be able to undertake summer experiences and internships oriented toward community empowerment, public policy, social innovation, or societal amelioration, and the senior capstone exercise would encourage critical reflection on those experiences,” Berger wrote.

The philosophical rigor and interdisciplinary approaches are met with interest and enthusiasm by students.

“I wanted to try a philosophy course, I’d previously taken a class on game theory, and I thought a more interdisciplinary approach to the same issues would be cool to see,” Daniel Belkin ‘19 said.

Some students had clear goals in mind when choosing the PPE course. “I signed up for PPE because it’s a culmination of the fields that I am interested in, and I wanted to learn approaches to understanding social phenomena in a holistic manner. I hope to better my analytical skills and solve collective action problems,” Amy Ding ‘19 said.

Min Zhong

Min covers news regarding the Swarthmore Government Organization for The Daily Gazette. Min is interested in finance and anthropology, and any other topics that seek to understand how and why human beings make the choices they do. At Swarthmore, Min is involved in Swat Tank, and an investment club. Min only eats gala apples, shares a birthday date with John F. Kennedy, and is a Jack Kent Cooke Scholar from Arlington, VA. Min enjoys reading in her free time, and prefers savory over sweet.

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