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Risk and Rational Decisions

Philosophical issues in risk management and decision theory
An exciting opportunity exists for a commencing PhD student to join a group of leading scholars to undertake research on philosophy of risk and decision theory.

The project lies at the intersection of logic, decision theory, and philosophy of probability. Central questions include: how should we approach risky decisions (especially those with a small probability of a catastrophic outcome)?; is standard probability theory the best way to represent uncertainty?; how should we represent uncertainty about uncertainty (e.g., “unknown unknowns”)? Such questions are central to philosophical work on risk but they’re also important for applications of decision theory to public policy, management decisions, and public perceptions of risk. Relevant examples include: the recent Australian bushfires, the COVID-19 pandemic, the current mass extinction crisis, and climate change. We would welcome project proposals that explore the social relevance of risk as well as more technical proposals looking at philosophical and mathematical issues in risk management.

To be successful in your PhD application you will have (i) a strong background in philosophy generally and especially in the more technical areas of philosophy (e.g., logic, decision theory, and formal epistemology), (ii) a well-developed and feasible research proposal, (iii) strong letters of reference and (iv) an ability to undertake original research.

We strongly encourage First Nations candidates to apply.

The Chief Investigators will supervise the student based on their expertise and candidate preference.

  • Professor Mark Colyvan: decision theory, philosophy of risk, environmental philosophy, philosophy of mathematics, philosophy of logic
  • Professor Nick Smith: logic, philosophy of logic, decision theory, philosophy of language
  • Dr Michael Nielsen: mathematical philosophy, formal epistemology, decision theory

The successful PhD candidate will be based on the Camperdown Campus of The University of Sydney.

The aim of this project is to advance our knowledge of risk and decision making, addressing various problems with existing accounts, and applying such new knowledge to practical applications found in public policy and risk management.

This project is in the area of formal philosophy, one of the five key strengths of the 5-star, ERA-ranked philosophy department at the University of Sydney. The PhD candidate would enjoy the benefits of working with leading scholars at the University of Sydney as well as with our large, international research networks. The successful PhD student will be mentored in all aspects of becoming a successful researcher, including working as part of a collaborative research team.

Applicants are invited to submit a proposal for PhD research that aligns directly to this project and makes a contribution contextualising past, present, and future occupation of island environments.

Prospective candidates may qualify for direct entry into the PhD program, if their research proposal (see above) is accepted and they satisfy one of the criteria listed below.

  • Bachelor's degree with first-class honours in an appropriate area of study that includes a research thesis based on original research not literature review
  • Master's degree by research in an appropriate area of study that includes a research thesis based on original research
  • Master's degree by coursework, with a research thesis or dissertation of 12,000–15,000 words based on original research not literature review, and with a grade-point average of at least 80 per cent in the degree.

For more information regarding applying for a PhD refer to the course details for Doctor of Philosophy (Arts and Social Sciences).

Please also refer to guidelines for preparing a research proposal.

A number of scholarships are available to support your studies.

These scholarships will provide a stipend allowance of $35,000 per annum for up to 3.5 years. Successful international students will also receive a tuition fee scholarship for up to 3.5 years.

For other scholarship opportunities refer to Faculty Research Scholarships (Domestic) or Faculty Research Scholarships (International).

For further details about the PhD project, contact Professor Mark Colyvan at

Mark Colyvan

Professor of Philosophy
  • +61 2 9351 3918
  • Room N285 School of Humanities Quadrangle A14

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