Countable Additivity, Idealisation, and Conceptual Realism
This paper addresses the issue of finite versus countable additivity in Bayesian probability and decision Theory -- in particular, Savage's theory of subjective expected utility and personal probability. I show that Savage's reason for not requiring countable additivity in his theory is inconclusive. The assessment leads to an analysis of various highly idealised assumptions commonly adopted in Bayesian theory, where I argue that a healthy dose of, what I call, conceptual realism is often helpful in understanding the interpretational value of sophisticated mathematical structures employed in applied sciences like decision theory. In the last part, I introduce countable additivity into Savage's theory and explore some technical properties in relation to other axioms of the system.
Economics and Philosophy, forthcoming
Ramsey and Joyce on Deliberation and Prediction
with Huw Price
Can an agent deliberating about an action A hold a meaningful credence that she will do A? 'No', say some authors, for 'Deliberation Crowds Out Prediction' (DCOP). Others disagree, but we argue here that such disagreements are often terminological. We explain why DCOP holds in a Ramseyian operationalist model of credence, but show that it is trivial to extend this model so that DCOP fails. We then discuss a model due to Joyce, and show that Joyce's rejection of DCOP rests on terminological choices about terms such as 'intention', 'prediction', and 'belief'. Once these choices are in view, they reveal underlying agreement between Joyce and the DCOP-favouring tradition that descends from Ramsey. Joyce's Evidential Autonomy Thesis (EAT) is effectively DCOP, in different terminological clothing. Both principles rest on the so-called 'transparency' of first-person present-tensed reflection on one's own mental states.
Heart of DARCness
with Huw Price
There is a long-standing disagreement in the philosophy of probability and Bayesian decision theory about whether an agent can hold a meaningful credence about an upcoming action, while she deliberates about what to do. Can she believe that it is, say, 70% probable that she will do A, while she chooses whether to do A? No, say some philosophers, for Deliberation Crowds Out Prediction (DCOP), but others disagree. In this paper, we propose a valid core for DCOP, and identify terminological causes for some of the apparent disputes.
A Simpler and More Realistic Subjective Decision Theory
with Haim Gaifman
The paper presents two mathematical results. The first, and the more difficult one, shows that the probability measures derived in Savage's theory of expected utility can be defined without the σ-algebra assumption. The second states that, as long as utilities are assigned to finite gambles only, the constant act assumption can be replaced by the more plausible and much weaker assumption that there are at least two non-equivalent constant acts. The second result also employs a novel way of deriving utilities in Savage-style systems -- without appealing to von Neumann-Morgenstern lotteries. The paper discusses the notion of "idealized agent" that underlies Savage's approach, and argues that the simplified system, which is adequate for all the actual purposes for which the system is designed, involves a more realistic notion of an idealized agent.
The Sure-thing Principle and P2
This paper offers a fine analysis of different versions of the well known sure-thing principle. We show that Savage's formal formulation of the principle, i.e., his second postulate (P2), is strictly stronger than what is intended originally.
Frege's Begriffsschrift is Indeed First-order Complete
It is widely taken that the first-order part of Frege's Begriffsschrift is complete. However, there does not seem to have been a formal verification of this received claim. The general concern is that Frege's system is one axiom short in the first-order predicate calculus comparing to, by now, standard first-order theory. Yet Frege has one extra inference rule in his system. Then the question is whether Frege's first-order calculus is still deductively sufficient as far as first-order completeness is concerned. In this short note we confirm that the missing axiom is derivable from his stated axioms and inference rules, and hence the logic system in the Begriffsschrift is indeed first-order complete.
'Click!' Bait for Causalists
with Huw Price
Causalists and Evidentialists can agree about the right course of action in an (apparent) Newcomb problem, if the causal facts are not as initially they seem. If declining $1,000 causes the Predictor to have placed $1m in the opaque box, CDT agrees with EDT that one-boxing is rational. This creates a difficulty for Causalists. We explain the problem with reference to Dummett's work on backward causation and Lewis's on chance and crystal balls. We show that the possibility that the causal facts might be properly judged to be non-standard in Newcomb problems leads to a dilemma for Causalism. One horn embraces a subjectivist understanding of causation, in a sense analogous to Lewis's own subjectivist conception of objective chance. In this case the analogy with chance reveals a terminological choice point, such that either (i) CDT is completely reconciled with EDT, or (ii) EDT takes precedence in the cases in which the two theories give different recommendations. The other horn of the dilemma rejects subjectivism, but now the analogy with chance suggests that it is simply mysterious why causation so construed should constrain rational action.
with Haim Gaifman
Savage's framework of subjective preference among acts provides a paradigmatic derivation of rational subjective probabilities within a more general theory of rational decisions. The system is based on a set of possible states of the world, and on acts, which are functions that assign to each state a consequence. The representation theorem states that the given preference between acts is determined by their expected utilities, based on uniquely determined probabilities (assigned to sets of states), and numeric utilities assigned to consequences. Savage's derivation, however, is based on a highly problematic well-known assumption not included among his postulates: for any consequence of an act in some state, there is a "constant act" which has that consequence in all states. This ability to transfer consequences from state to state is, in many cases, miraculous -- including simple scenarios suggested by Savage as natural cases for applying his theory. We propose a simplification of the system, which yields the representation theorem without the constant act assumption. We need only postulates P1-P6. This is done at the cost of reducing the set of acts included in the setup. The reduction excludes certain theoretical infinitary scenarios, but includes the scenarios that should be handled by a system that models human decisions.
There is increasing interest in the challenges of ensuring that the long-term development of artificial intelligence (AI) is safe and beneficial. Moreover, despite different perspectives, there is much common ground between mathematical and philosophical decision theory, on the one hand, and AI, on the other. The aim of the special issue is to explore links and joint research at the nexus between decision theory and AI, broadly construed.
Special issue of Synthese