Reflections on My Visit to the LSE/CPNSS

17 June 2018

Last term, the same in which I handed in my thesis, I undertook a short research visit at the London School of Economics (LSE), more specifically the Center for Philosophy of Natural and Social Sciences (CPNSS). I worked mostly in London, learned from another department, and met new people.

The LSE is a special place. Philosophy research at the LSE is quite focussed, more so than in my home department at Sheffield. Formal methods, especially those associated with decision theory, permeate the research at the LSE. Few other departments will advertise a panel discussion of the von Neumann and Morgenstern cardinalisation of wellbeing. At such a place much more can be taken for granted in discussions. One can get into technical details quickly without bothering too much with the basics.

Emersing myself in this way of thinking was a major motivation for my visit. Since a considerable part of my own work relies on formal methods, I profited a lot from various conversations at the LSE/CPNSS. Christian List helped me to understand his reason-based decision theory (developed together with Franz Dietrich) better. He pushed me to clarify my ideas about how preference change underlies human cooperation, and I’ll present the results at various conferences this summer. Richard Bradley discussed his confidence approach to uncertainty. I see some connections to my work on preference change and while I won’t get into details here, there’s more to come. I’ve also used the opportunity to write up my review of Bradley’s Decision Theory with a Human Face, which I read in preparation for the visit (expect at least one more blog post on this book). In this regard, my visit was quite a success.

Staff and students at the LSE were extremely welcoming, so I could also enjoy the social aspect of my visit. Of course, the LSE also profits much from being located in London. I know that many of my fellow students find a permanent home in Sheffield, but I needed to get away. It might sound like marketing-speak but London offers unique opportunities and experiences. From the LSE you can just pop over to the British Museum - and I did so at least twice.

The official visit lasted only for a few weeks, but I’m hopeful that what I’ve learned and the connections I made will last longer. But to end on a critical note, you can always get more out of a research visit if you are not at the same time finishing up your thesis.

Acknowledgement: My visit has been partially funded by Postgraduate Researcher Experience Programme at the University of Sheffield.