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Briggs, Rachael, , . Normative Theories of Rational Choice: Expected Utility
2014, Standford Encyclopedia of Philosophy
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Added by: Giada Fratantonio, Contributed by:

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.

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Buchak, Lara, , . Risk and Rationality
2013, Oxford: Oxford University Press.
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Added by: Jie Gao, Contributed by:

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.

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Harp, Randall, , Kareem Khalifa. Why Pursue Unification? A Social-Epistemological Puzzle
2015, Theoria. An International Journal for Theory, History and Foundations of Science 30(3): 431-447.
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Added by: Nick Novelli, Contributed by:

Abstract: Many have argued that unified theories ought to be pursued wherever possible. We deny this on the basis of social-epistemological and game-theoretic considerations. Consequently, those seeking a more ubiquitous role for unification must either attend to the scientific community’s social structure in greater detail than has been the case, and/or radically revise their conception of unification.

Comment: An interesting argument about how scientific practice influences the rationality of theory choice. Would be suited to any course where these issues are discussed.

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Paul, L. A., , . What You Can’t Expect When You’re Expecting
2015, Res Philosophica 92 (2):1-23 (2015)
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Added by: Andrea Blomqvist, Contributed by:

Abstract: It seems natural to choose whether to have a child by reflecting on what it would be like to actually have a child. I argue that this natural approach fails. If you choose to become a parent, and your choice is based on projections about what you think it would be like for you to have a child, your choice is not rational. If you choose to remain childless, and your choice is based upon projections about what you think it would be like for you to have a child, your choice is not rational. This suggests we should reject our ordinary conception of how to make this life-changing decision, and raises general questions about how to rationally approach important life choices.

Comment: Good to use as a shorter introductory reading to L.A. Paul’s work and how to make decisions about life choices. It could be used in a module on decision making, or imagination.

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Paul, L.A., , . Transformative Experience
2014, Oxford University Press
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Added by: Andrea Blomqvist, Contributed by:

Abstract: How should we make choices when we know so little about our futures? L. A. Paul argues that we must view life decisions as choices to make discoveries about the nature of experience. Her account of transformative experience holds that part of the value of living authentically is to experience our lives and preferences in whatever ways they evolve.

Comment: This book raises interesting issues regarding imagination and how far we can imagine experiences, as well as ethics and decision making. It could be the basis for a whole module on the topic, or particular chapters could be discussed e.g. in relation to decision-making.

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