When people must either save a greater number of people from a smaller harm or a smaller number from a greater harm, do their choices reflect a reasonable moral outlook? We pursue this question with the help of an experiment. In our experiment, two-fifths of subjects employ a similarity heuristic. When alternatives appear dissimilar in terms of the number saved but similar in terms of the magnitude of harm prevented, this heuristic mandates saving the greater number. In our experiment, this (...) leads to choices that are inconsistent with all standard theories of justice. We argue that this demonstrates the untrustworthiness of distributive judgments in cases that elicit similarity-based choice. (shrink)
We use probability-matching variations on Ellsberg’s single-urn experiment to assess three questions: (1) How sensitive are ambiguity attitudes to changes from a gain to a loss frame? (2) How sensitive are ambiguity attitudes to making ambiguity easier to recognize? (3) What is the relation between subjects’ consistency of choice and the ambiguity attitudes their choices display? Contrary to most other studies, we find that a switch from a gain to a loss frame does not lead to a switch from ambiguity (...) aversion to ambiguity neutrality and/or ambiguity seeking. We also find that making ambiguity easier to recognize has little effect. Finally, we find that while ambiguity aversion does not depend on consistency, other attitudes do: consistent choosers are much more likely to be ambiguity neutral, while ambiguity seeking is much more frequent among highly inconsistent choosers. (shrink)
According to the orthodox treatment of risk preferences in decision theory, they are to be explained in terms of the agent's desires about concrete outcomes. The orthodoxy has been criticised both for conflating two types of attitudes and for committing agents to attitudes that do not seem rationally required. To avoid these problems, it has been suggested that an agent's attitudes to risk should be captured by a risk function that is independent of her utility and probability functions. The main (...) problem with that approach is that it suggests that attitudes to risk are wholly distinct from people's (non-instrumental) desires. To overcome this problem, we develop a framework where an agent's utility function is defined over chance propositions (i.e., propositions describing objective probability distributions) as well as ordinary (non-chance) ones, and argue that one should explain different risk attitudes in terms of different forms of the utility function over such propositions. (shrink)
The desirability of what actually occurs is often influenced by what could have been. Preferences based on such value dependencies between actual and counterfactual outcomes generate a class of problems for orthodox decision theory, the best-known perhaps being the so-called Allais Paradox. In this paper we solve these problems by extending Richard Jeffrey's decision theory to counterfactual prospects, using a multidimensional possible-world semantics for conditionals, and showing that preferences that are sensitive to counterfactual considerations can still be desirability maximising. We (...) end the paper by investigating the conditions necessary and sufficient for a desirability function to be an expected utility. It turns out that the additional conditions imply highly implausible epistemic principles. (shrink)
This paper discusses a challenge for Comparativists about belief, who hold that numerical degree of belief (in particular, subjective probability) is a useful fiction, unlike comparative belief, which they regard as real. The challenge is to make sense of claims like ‘I am twice as confident in A as in B’ in terms of comparative belief only. After showing that at least some Comparativists can meet this challenge, I discuss implications for Zynda’s  and Stefánsson’s  defences of Comparativism.
The veil of ignorance argument was used by John C. Harsanyi to defend Utilitarianism and by John Rawls to defend the absolute priority of the worst off. In a recent paper, Lara Buchak revives the veil of ignorance argument, and uses it to defend an intermediate position between Harsanyi's and Rawls' that she calls Relative Prioritarianism. None of these authors explore the implications of allowing that agent's behind the veil are averse to ambiguity. Allowing for aversion to ambiguity---which is both (...) the most commonly observed and a seemingly reasonable attitude to ambiguity---however supports a version of Egalitarianism, whose logical form is quite different from the theories defended by the aforementioned authors. Moreover, it turns out that the veil of ignorance argument neither supports standard Utilitarianism nor Prioritarianism unless we assume that rational people are insensitive to ambiguity. (shrink)
Population axiology concerns how to evaluate populations in terms of their moral goodness, that is, how to order populations by the relations “is better than” and “is as good as”. The task has been to find an adequate theory about the moral value of states of affairs where the number of people, the quality of their lives, and their identities may vary. So far, this field has largely ignored issues about uncertainty and the conditions that have been discussed mostly pertain (...) to the ranking of risk-free outcomes. Most public policy choices, however, are decisions under uncertainty, including policy choices that affect the size of a population. Here, we shall address the question of how to rank population prospects—that is, alternatives that contain uncertainty as to which population they will bring about—by the relations “is better than” and “is as good as”. We start by illustrating how well-known population axiologies can be extended to population prospect axiologies. And we show that new problems arise when extending population axiologies to prospects. In particular, traditional population axiologies lead to prospect-versions of the problems that they praised for avoiding in the risk-free settings. Finally, we identify an intuitive adequacy condition that, we contend, should be satisfied by any population prospect axiology, and show how given this condition, the impossibility theorems in population axiology can be extended to (non-trivial) impossibility theorems for population prospect axiology. (shrink)
It has recently been argued that indeterminacy and indeterminism make most ordinary counterfactuals false. I argue that a plausible way to avoid such counterfactual skepticism is to postulate the existence of primitive modal facts that serve as truth-makers for counterfactual claims. Moreover, I defend a new theory of ‘might’ counterfactuals, and develop assertability and knowledge criteria to suit such unobservable ‘counterfacts’.
Chance Neutrality is the thesis that, conditional on some proposition being true, its chance of being true should be a matter of practical indifference. The aim of this article is to examine whether Chance Neutrality is a requirement of rationality. We prove that given Chance Neutrality, the Principal Principle entails a thesis called Linearity; the centerpiece of von Neumann and Morgenstern’s expected utility theory. With this in mind, we argue that the Principal Principle is a requirement of practical rationality but (...) that Linearity is not and, hence, that Chance Neutrality is not rationally required. (shrink)
The Desire-as-Belief thesis (DAB) states that any rational person desires a proposition exactly to the degree that she believes or expects the proposition to be good. Many people take David Lewis to have shown the thesis to be inconsistent with Bayesian decision theory. However, as we show, Lewis's argument was based on an Invariance condition that itself is inconsistent with the (standard formulation of the) version of Bayesian decision theory that he assumed in his arguments against DAB. The aim of (...) this paper is to explore what impact the rejection of Invariance has on the DAB thesis. Without assuming Invariance, we first refute all versions of DAB that entail that there are only two levels of goodness. We next consider two theses according to which rational desires are intimately connected to expectations of (multi-levelled) goodness, and show that these are consistent with Bayesian decision theory as long as we assume that the contents of 'value propositions' are not fixed. We explain why this conclusion is independently plausible, and show how to construct such propositions. (shrink)
This paper defends two related claims about belief. First, the claim that unlike numerical degrees of belief, comparative beliefs are primitive and psychologically real. Second, the claim that the fundamental norm of Probabilism is not that numerical degrees of belief should satisfy the probability axioms, but rather that comparative beliefs should satisfy certain constraints.
According to one reading of the thesis of Humean Supervenience, most famously defended by David Lewis, certain ‘fundamental’ (non-modal) facts entail all there is but do not supervene on less fundamental facts. However, in this paper I prove that it follows from Lewis' possible world semantics for counterfactuals, in particular his Centring condition, that all non-modal facts supervene on counterfactuals. Humeans could respond to this result by either giving up Centring or abandoning the idea that the most fundamental facts do (...) not supervene on less fundamental facts. I argue that either response should in general be acceptable to Humeans: the first since there is nothing particularly Humean about Centring; the latter since Humeans should, independently of the result I present, be sceptical that the supervenience of one fact upon another by itself says anything about ‘fundamentality’. (shrink)
L. A. Paul has recently argued that the epistemically transformative nature of certain experiences makes it impossible to rationally decide whether to have the experience or not. We start by explaining why, contrary to what Paul claims, epistemically transformative experiences do not pose a general problem for the possibility of rational choice. However, we show there is a particular type of agent for whom the problem identified by Paul does arise. With this agent in mind, we examine Paul’s own suggestion (...) for how to approach a transformative decision problem, namely, that one should decide based on whether one would like to come to know the experience in question, and we conclude that Paul’s suggestion is no solution for this particular agent. In other words, Paul’s solution does not work for the only type of agent for whom the problem she has identified arises. (shrink)
This paper develops a Multidimensional Decision Theory and argues that it better captures ordinary intuitions about fair distribution of chances than classical decision theory. The theory is an extension of Richard Jeffrey’s decision theory to counterfactual prospects and is a form of Modal Consequentialism, according to which the value of actual outcomes often depends on what could have been. Unlike existing versions of modal consequentialism, the multidimensional decision theory allows us to explicitly model the desirabilistic dependencies between actual and counterfactual (...) outcomes that, I contend, are at the heart of common intuitions about fair distribution of chances. (shrink)
A moderately risk averse person may turn down a 50/50 gamble that either results in her winning $200 or losing $100. Such behaviour seems rational if, for instance, the pain of losing $100 is felt more strongly than the joy of winning $200. The aim of this paper is to examine an influential argument that some have interpreted as showing that such moderate risk aversion is irrational. After presenting an axiomatic argument that I take to be the strongest case for (...) the claim that moderate risk aversion is irrational, I show that it essentially depends on an assumption that those who think that risk aversion can be rational should be skeptical of. Hence, I conclude that risk aversion need not be irrational. (shrink)
Orthodox expected utility theory imposes too stringent restrictions on what attitudes to risk one can rationally hold. Focusing on a life-and-death gamble, I identify as the main culprit the theory’s Linearity property, according to which the utility of a particular change in the risk of a bad outcome is independent of the original level of risk. Finally, I argue that a recent non-standard Bayesian decision theory, that does not have this property, handles risky gambles better than the orthodox theory.
This paper presents a new kind of problem in the ethics of distribution. The problem takes the form of several “calibration dilemmas,” in which intuitively reasonable aversion to small-stakes inequalities requires leading theories of distribution to recommend intuitively unreasonable aversion to large-stakes inequalities. We first lay out a series of such dilemmas for prioritarian theories. We then consider a widely endorsed family of egalitarian views and show that they are subject to even more forceful calibration dilemmas than prioritarian theories. Finally, (...) we show that our results challenge common utilitarian accounts of the badness of inequalities in resources. (shrink)
Catastrophic risk raises questions that are not only of practical importance, but also of great philosophical interest, such as how to define catastrophe and what distinguishes catastrophic outcomes from non-catastrophic ones. Catastrophic risk also raises questions about how to rationally respond to such risks. How to rationally respond arguably partly depends on the severity of the uncertainty, for instance, whether quantitative probabilistic information is available, or whether only comparative likelihood information is available, or neither type of information. Finally, catastrophic risk (...) raises important ethical questions about what to do when catastrophe avoidance conflicts with equity promotion. (shrink)
Does the desirability of a proposition depend on whether it is true? Not according to the Invariance assumption, held by several notable philosophers. The Invariance assumption plays an important role in David Lewis’ famous arguments against the so-called Desire-as-Belief thesis (DAB), an anti-Humean thesis according to which a rational agent desires a proposition exactly to the degree that she believes the proposition to be desirable. But the assumption is of interest independently of Lewis’ arguments, for instance since both Richard Jeffrey (...) and James Joyce make the assumption (or, strictly speaking, accept a thesis that implies Invariance) in their influential books on decision theory. The main claim to be defended in this paper is that Invariance is incompatible with certain assumptions of decision theory. I show that the assumption fails on the most common interpretations of desirability and/or choice-worthiness found in decision theory. I moreover show that Invariance is inconsistent with Richard Jeffrey’s decision theory, on which Lewis’ arguments against DAB are based. Finally, I show that Invariance contradicts how we in general do and should think about conditional desirability. (shrink)
The Precautionary Principle (PP) is an influential principle of risk management. It has been widely introduced into environmental legislation, and it plays an important role in most international environmental agreements. Yet, there is little consensus on precisely how to understand and formulate the principle. In this paper I prove some impossibility results for two plausible formulations of the PP as a decision-rule. These results illustrate the difficulty in making the PP consistent with the acceptance of any trade-offs between catastrophic risks (...) and more ordinary goods. (shrink)
This paper takes issue with an influential interpretationist argument for physicalism about intentionality based on the possibility of radical interpretation. The interpretationist defends the physicalist thesis that the intentional truths supervene on the physical truths by arguing that it is possible for a radical interpreter, who knows all of the physical truths, to work out the intentional truths about what an arbitrary agent believes, desires, and means without recourse to any further empirical information. One of the most compelling arguments for (...) the possibility of radical interpretation, associated most closely with David Lewis and Donald Davidson, gives a central role to decision theoretic representation theorems, which demonstrate that if an agent’s preferences satisfy certain constraints, it is possible to deduce probability and utility functions that represent her beliefs and desires. We argue that an interpretationist who wants to rely on existing representation theorems in defence of the possibility of radical interpretation faces a trilemma, each horn of which is incompatible with the possibility of radical interpretation. (shrink)
The Bayesian maxim for rational learning could be described as conservative change from one probabilistic belief or credence function to another in response to newinformation. Roughly: ‘Hold fixed any credences that are not directly affected by the learning experience.’ This is precisely articulated for the case when we learn that some proposition that we had previously entertained is indeed true (the rule of conditionalisation). But can this conservative-change maxim be extended to revising one’s credences in response to entertaining propositions or (...) concepts of which one was previously unaware? The economists Karni and Vierø (2013, 2015) make a proposal in this spirit. Philosophers have adopted effectively the same rule: revision in response to growing awareness should not affect the relative probabilities of propositions in one’s ‘old’ epistemic state. The rule is compelling, but only under the assumptions that its advocates introduce. It is not a general requirement of rationality, or so we argue. We provide informal counterexamples. And we show that, when awareness grows, the boundary between one’s ‘old’ and ‘new’ epistemic commitments is blurred. Accordingly, there is no general notion of conservative change in this setting. (shrink)
What distinguishes indicative conditionals from subjunctive conditionals, according to one popular view, is that the so-called Adams’ thesis holds for the former kind of conditionals but the so-called Skyrms’ thesis for the latter. According to a plausible metaphysical view, both conditionals and chances supervene on non-modal facts. But since chances do not supervene on facts about particular events but facts about event-types, the past as well as the future is chancy. Some philosophers have worried that this metaphysical view is incompatible (...) with the aforementioned view on the probability of conditionals. This paper however shows that there is no need to worry, as these views can all be simultaneously satisfied within the so-called Multidimensional Possible World Semantics for conditionals. (shrink)
The de minimis principle states that some risks are so trivial that they can be ignored or treated categorically differently from non-trivial risks. Lundgren and Stefánsson criticize the de minimis principle, arguing that it either has to be applied locally or globally and that problems arise whichever application is chosen. Aven and Seif respond to Lundgren and Stefánsson’s argument and defend the de minimis principle as a “meaningful and useful perspective for handling risk in practice.” The response highlights some aspects (...) of the argument in Lundgren and Stefánsson that needs clarification, which is what we do in this note. (shrink)
Neoclassical economists use expected utility theory to explain, predict, and prescribe choices under risk, that is, choices where the decision-maker knows---or at least deems suitable to act as if she knew---the relevant probabilities. Expected utility theory has been subject to both empirical and conceptual criticism. This chapter reviews expected utility theory and the main criticism it has faced. It ends with a brief discussion of subjective expected utility theory, which is the theory neoclassical economists use to explain, predict, and prescribe (...) choices under uncertainty, that is, choices where the decision-maker cannot act on the basis of objective probabilities but must instead consult her own subjective probabilities. (shrink)
The main aim of this book is to introduce the topic of limited awareness, and changes in awareness, to those interested in the philosophy of decision-making and uncertain reasoning. (This is for the series Elements of Decision Theory published by Cambridge University Press and edited by Martin Peterson).
Suppose that a decision-maker's aim, under certainty, is to maximise some continuous value, such as lifetime income or continuous social welfare. Can such a decision-maker rationally satisfy what has been called "continuity for easy cases" while at the same time satisfying what seems to be a widespread intuition against the full-blown continuity axiom of expected utility theory? In this note I argue that the answer is "no": given transitivity and a weak trade-off principle, continuity for easy cases violates the anti-continuity (...) intuition. I end the note by exploring an even weaker continuity condition that is consistent with the aforementioned intuition. (shrink)
According to the class of de minimis decision principles, risks can be ignored (or at least treated very differently from other risks) if the risk is sufficiently small. In this article, we argue that a de minimis threshold has no place in a normative theory of decision making, because the application of the principle will either recommend ignoring risks that should not be ignored (e.g., the sure death of a person) or it cannot be used by ordinary bounded and information-constrained (...) agents. (shrink)
Economic policy evaluations require social welfare functions for variable-size populations. Two important candidates are critical-level generalized utilitarianism (CLGU) and rank-discounted critical-level generalized utilitarianism, which was recently characterized by Asheim and Zuber (2014) (AZ). AZ introduce a novel axiom, existence of egalitarian equivalence (EEE). First, we show that, under some uncontroversial criteria for a plausible social welfare relation, EEE suffices to rule out the Repugnant Conclusion of population ethics (without AZ’s other novel axioms). Second, we provide a new characterization of CLGU: (...) AZ’s set of axioms is equivalent to CLGU when EEE is replaced by the axiom same-number independence. (shrink)
Variable-Value axiologies propose solutions to the challenges of population ethics. These views avoid Parfit's Repugnant Conclusion, while satisfying some weak instances of the Mere Addition principle (for example, at small population sizes). We apply calibration methods to Variable-Value views while assuming: first, some very weak instances of Mere Addition, and, second, some plausible empirical assumptions about the size and welfare of the intertemporal world population. We find that Variable-Value views imply conclusions that should seem repugnant to anyone who opposes Total (...) Utilitarianism due to the Repugnant Conclusion. So, any wish to avoid repugnant conclusions is not a good reason to choose a Variable-Value view. More broadly, these calibrations teach us something about the effort to avoid the Repugnant Conclusion. Our results join a recent literature arguing that prior efforts to avoid the Repugnant Conclusion hinge on inessential features of the formalization of repugnance. Some of this effort may therefore be misplaced. (shrink)
Those who are risk averse with respect to money, and thus turn down some gambles with positive monetary expectations, are nevertheless often willing to accept bundles involving multiple such gambles. Therefore, it might seem that such people should become more willing to accept a risky but favourable gamble if they put it in context with the collection of gambles that they predict they will be faced with in the future. However, it turns out that when a risk averse person adopts (...) the long-term perspective, she faces a decision-problem that can be analysed as a noncooperative game between different "time-slices" of herself, where it is in the interest of each time-slice (given its prediction about other slices) to turn down the gamble with which it is faced. Hence, even if a risk averse but rational person manages to take the long-term perspective, she will, in the absence of what Hardin called "mutual coercion", end up in a situation analogous to the "tragedy of the commons". (shrink)
This paper explores the different ways in which conditionals can be carriers of good and bad news. I suggest a general measure of the desirability of conditionals, and use it to explore the different ways in which conditionals can have news value. I conclude by arguing that the desirability of a counterfactual conditional cannot be reduced to the desirability of factual propositions.
Both individuals and governments around the world have willingly sacrificed a great deal to meet the collective action problem posed by Covid-19. This has provided some commentators with newfound hope about the possibility that we will be able to solve what is arguably the greatest collective action problem of all time: global climate change. In this paper we argue that this is overly optimistic. We defend two main claims. First, these two collective action problems are so different that the actions (...) that individuals have taken to try to solve the problem posed by Covid-19 unfortunately provide little indication that we will be able to solve the problem posed by climate change. Second, the actions that states have taken in response to Covid-19 might—if anything—even be evidence that they will continue to fail to cooperate towards a solution to the climate crisis. (shrink)
The Repugnant Conclusion served an important purpose in catalyzing and inspiring the pioneering stage of population ethics research. We believe, however, that the Repugnant Conclusion now receives too much focus. Avoiding the Repugnant Conclusion should no longer be the central goal driving population ethics research, despite its importance to the fundamental accomplishments of the existing literature.
‘If I were to toss a coin 1000 times, then it would land heads exactly n times’. Is there a specific value of n that renders this counterfactual true? According to an increasingly influential view, there is. A precursor of the view goes back to the Molinists; more recently it has been inspired by Stalnaker, and versions of it have been advocated by Hawthorne, Bradley, Moss, Schulz, and Stefánsson. More generally, I attribute to these authors what I call Counterfactual Plenitude:For (...) any antecedent A, there is a world wisuch that A ☐→ wiis true.Moreover, some of these authors are also committed to Primitive Counterfacts Realism:There exist primitive modal facts that serve as truth-makers for counterfactual claims.Call the conjunction of these italicized theses counterfactism. I clarify it and suggest some of its virtues, while ultimately rejecting it.Stefánsson’s counterfactism is motivated by and targeted at my “counterfactual skepticism”—I argue that most counterfactuals are false—and counterfactism has various other sources of support. I briefly defend that skepticism, and I seek to undercut those sources of support. I then argue more directly against counterfactism, especially on grounds of its ontological profligacy, and its leading to another kind of skepticism about counterfactuals that I believe is more problematic than my kind. In the process, I discuss how Bradley’s multidimensional semantics bears on counterfactism; I offer some new considerations against some central theses regarding conditionals ; and I reflect more generally on the epistemology of modality and the choice of primitives in our theorizing. (shrink)
We study the representation of attitudes to risk in Jeffrey’s decision-theoretic framework suggested by Stefánsson and Bradley :602–625, 2015; Br J Philos Sci 70:77–102, 2017) and Bradley :231–248, 2016; Decisions theory with a human face, Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, 2017). We show that on this representation, the value of any prospect may be expressed as a sum of two components, the prospect’s instrumental value and the prospect’s intrinsic value. Both components have an expectational form. We also make a distinction between (...) a prospect’s overall intrinsic value and a prospect’s conditional intrinsic value given each one of its possible outcomes and argue that this distinction has great explanatory power. We explore the relation between these two types of intrinsic values and show that they are determined at the level of preferences. Finally, we explore the relation between the intrinsic values of different prospects and point to a strong restriction on this relation that is implicit in Jeffrey’s axioms. We suggest a natural interpretation to this restriction. (shrink)
According to comparativism, comparative confidence is more fundamental than absolute confidence. In a pair of recent papers, Stefánsson has argued that comparativism is capable of explaining interpersonal confidence comparisons. In this paper, I will argue that Stefansson’s proposed explanation is inadequate; that we have good reasons to think that comparativism cannot handle interpersonal comparisons; and that the best explanation of interpersonal comparisons requires thinking about confidence in a fundamentally different way than that which comparativists propose—specifically, we should think of (...) confidence as a dimensionless quantity. (shrink)