College of Humanities and Social Sciences

Philosophy, Politics, and Economics: An Innovative Approach to Societal Questions

Ppe structure large

The College of Humanities and Social Sciences at George Mason University is pleased to introduce an undergraduate program that merges the disciplines of philosophy, political science, and economics (PPE). The program allows each student to enhance his or her major in any of these distinct disciplines by studying topics that bear on all three of them, using the tools of moral, political, and economic analysis.

Philosophy explores the nature of the human condition and the place of individuals in the natural and social world. Drawing on thousands of years of philosophical reflection, the discipline asks “big questions” about ethics, responsibility, and the very nature of society, using the tools of logic and critical thinking.

Political science examines the institutions that govern society and how they affect individuals within that society. Theories abound on the roles that governmental institutions should have within their societies; the understanding of those roles is critical for the functioning of a civilization.

Economics is the study of choices made by individuals, societies, and institutions, and the consequences of those choices for the allocation of scarce resources. Modern economics recognizes that even governmental decisions have economic effects and are influenced by events that take place in the economy.

Today’s society presents issues that may be addressed from the standpoint of any one of these disciplines, but are better approached from the intersection of all three. The interconnection of philosophy, politics, and economics allows for a comprehensive understanding of the nuances of modern social, economic, and political problems.

The PPE degree is relatively new in the United States, though it has been an established brand in the United Kingdom for a century. In the US, some form of the program is available at a small but growing number of universities, including Yale, Duke, the University of Michigan, and the University of Pennsylvania. George Mason University is the first university in the metropolitan DC area to include the program in its curriculum. 

This makes sense, explains program director Erik Angner, an associate professor of philosophy, economics, and public policy. “George Mason already has spectacular strengths in the PPE disciplines. By building this program, we’re offering students the opportunity to partake in them. And the proximity to Washington, DC, gives our students unmatched opportunities to explore the policy process, as it were, in the wild.”

The program awards successful students a concentration in PPE within the context of a traditional major: a BA in Philosophy, Government and International Politics, or Economics, or a BS in Economics. Regardless of the student’s major, the program incorporates traditional courses from each of the three disciplines with a set of core courses that focus firmly on the merger of all three fields. Because of Mason’s strengths in each of these areas, their combination affords students an enhanced platform for understanding either of them alone.

 “It is difficult to do any of these disciplines well without considerable knowledge of the others,” observes Tyler Cowen, economics professor, George Mason University and director of Mason’s Mercatus Center, a premier research center for market-oriented ideas. “In developing this new program, Mason is moving itself to the forefront of the social sciences and the humanities.”

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