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Introduction: This article discusses expected utility theory as a normative theory – that is, a theory of how people should make decisions. In classical economics, expected utility theory is often used as a descriptive theory – that is, a theory of how people do make decisions – or as a predictive theory – that is, a theory that, while it may not accurately model the psychological mechanisms of decision-making, correctly predicts people’s choices. Expected utility theory makes faulty predictions about people’s decisions in many real-life choice situations (see Kahneman & Tversky 1982); however, this does not settle whether people should make decisions on the basis of expected utility considerations. The expected utility of an act is a weighted average of the utilities of each of its possible outcomes, where the utility of an outcome measures the extent to which that outcome is preferred, or preferable, to the alternatives. The utility of each outcome is weighted according to the probability that the act will lead to that outcome. Section 1 fleshes out this basic definition of expected utility in more rigorous terms, and discusses its relationship to choice. Section 2 discusses two types of arguments for expected utility theory: representation theorems, and long-run statistical arguments. Section 3 considers objections to expected utility theory; section 4 discusses its applications in philosophy of religion, economics, ethics, and epistemology.Export citation in BibTeX formatExport text citationView this text on PhilPapersExport citation in Reference Manager formatExport citation in EndNote formatExport citation in Zotero format
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Publisher’s Note: Lara Buchak sets out a new account of rational decision-making in the face of risk. She argues that the orthodox view is too narrow, and suggests an alternative, more permissive theory: one that allows individuals to pay attention to the worst-case or best-case scenario, and vindicates the ordinary decision-maker.
Comment: This book argues for an alternative account of ideal rationality as opposed to the orthodox view in terms of expected utility theory. Buchak manages to explain the technical details of her theory in such a non-technical way that any student of philosophy will be able to follow her discussion. The book moreover contains very interesting passages on what we might call “the philosophy of decision theory”, such as metaphysical and epistemological issues concerning utilities and probabilities. This makes it a good teaching material for courses on decision theory and philosophy of action.Export citation in BibTeX formatExport text citationView this text on PhilPapersExport citation in Reference Manager formatExport citation in EndNote formatExport citation in Zotero format