Associate Professor of Philosophy and Social and Decision Sciences
Baker Hall 161C
Peter Vanderschraaf is Associate Professor of Philosophy and Social and Decision Sciences. He is a member of CMU's Center for the Advancement of Applied Ethics. Dr. Vanderschraaf's teaching and research interests focus on political philosophy, interactive decision theory (or game theory), ethical theory, applied ethics and the history of early modern (17th and 18th century) philosophy.
Dr. Vanderschraaf received his B.S. from Loyola Marymount University with majors in mathematics and philosophy. For several years he worked in the consumer and business direct marketing industries as a statistician for TRW Target Marketing Division. Dr. Vanderschraaf received his Ph.D. in philosophy from the University of California at Irvine. He served as the Weisman Postdoctoral Instructor of Philosophy at the California Institute of Technology immediately prior to joining CMU in 1997.
Some of the courses Dr. Vanderschraaf teaches regularly at CMU include: political philosophy, ethical theory, rational choice theory, modern philosophy and ethics and public policy.
Dr. Vanderschraaf is an associate editor of the journal Politics, Philosophy and Economics, an interdisciplinary journal that bring moral, economic and political theory to bear on the analysis, justification and criticism of political and economic institutions and public policies.
My research focuses on convention and its applications to issues in political philosophy, ethics and applied ethics. A convention is a pattern of coordinated behavior that the members of a community follow for mutual benefit. Convention is an exceedingly important notion in philosophy and social science, since a variety of human institutions ranging from languages to rules of market exchange to the specific requirements of justice can be viewed as conventions. At the same time, convention remains a relatively poorly understood notion. My work is driven by my ongoing attempts to answer such fundamental questions as:
In my work on convention, I attempt to integrate the relevant insights of both the philosophical and the social science traditions. This work draws upon both insights from classical philosophers such as Hobbes, Hume and Rousseau and contemporary formal theories, including game theory, epistemic logic, social network theory and threshold analysis. I am trying to give an account of convention that is properly precise and general, and that can explain the stability of conventions in a natural way. I also use the foundational arguments of the philosophers together with the relevant mathematical tools and empirical data from economics to give an account of how agents can learn to follow conventions over time, which consequently explains how conventions can arise without explicit agreements. I use the account of convention I work on to analyze issues in political philosophy and pure and applied ethics.
I approach any philosophy course in which I am to serve as instructor with three goals in mind:
Students come to CMU having long experience of being pupils, and are preparing to enter into a variety of professional lives. I believe a serious study of philosophy can contribute profoundly to one's professional development as well as one's personal enrichment, and I run the courses I lead in accord with this belief. I also hope that, by designing the course with the former two goals in mind, students will by their reading and oral and written work find philosophy to be as exciting as I have since my first (excellent!) undergraduate courses in philosophy. In particular, I think that in a successful philosophy course, students should finish with an appreciation both of what the long history of philosophy has to teach us, and how philosophers make progress.
In the 2005-2006 academic year I am leading the following courses:
“The Circumstances of Justice”, Politics, Philosophy and Economics, forthcoming.
“War or Peace?: A Dynamical Analysis of Anarchy”, Economics and Philosophy, forthcoming.
(with J. McKenzie Alexander) “Follow the Leader: Local Interactions with Influence Neighborhoods”, Philosophy of Science, vol. 72, 2005, pp. 86-113.
(with Brian Skyrms) “Learning to Take Turns”, Erkenntnis, vol. 59, 2003, pp. 311-348.
Learning and Coordination: Inductive Deliberation, Equilibrium and Convention, Routledge, 2001.
Friends and colleagues ask me about resources on convention and related areas for research and classes somewhat regularly. I thought it might be useful to collect some references here for those interested studying these areas further and who could use a few leads. Please note that the brief comments that accompany references express my personal opinions, and should be taken as such.