Teaching‎ > ‎2011 Fall‎ > ‎

Phil 585

Decision Theory and Rationality

This course number is listed in the catalog as a seminar in philosophy of science.  However, I have decided to run the seminar on a somewhat different topic.

Decision theory is a mathematical theory relating desire, belief, and preference of rational agents.  It has been used descriptively to interpret the observed behavior of agents, as well as normatively to give constraints on the future behavior of agents.  In this semester we will first look at some of these formal theories, and then consider issues in the foundations of these theories, looking especially at the normative significance of various distinctions that are made.

No background in formal epistemology or decision theory is required - I will help explain technical material so that it is accessible for newcomers, but further readings will be available for those who want to go into further depth.

Students that are enrolled in the class will do an in-class presentation on one of the topics, and write a term paper on a topic in decision theory by the end of the semester.


Aug. 24, Introduction

Aug. 31, Representation of preferences

Frank Ramsey, "Truth and probability"

Sept. 7, Savage's theory

Leonard Savage, The Foundations of Statistics (warning, large files!)
Chapters 1-2 - read all of these chapters (pp. 8-9 were accidentally left out of the scan)
Chapter 3 - read sections 3.1, 3.2, and 3.3 up to the statement of the theorem
Chapter 4 - optional, but many interesting issues
Chapter 5 - read 5.1, 5.2, 5.5, 5.6, and look at 5.3, 5.4

Sept. 14, Jeffrey's theory

Richard Jeffrey, The Logic of Decision
Chapter 1 - read 1.1-1.5.  The exercises in 1.6 and discussion after are interesting but raise too many issues for us to deal with now.
Chapter 2 - read all of it
Chapter 3 - optional, mainly as a clarification of Ramsey's view (but without the logical atomism)
Chapter 4 - read 4.1-4.5.  4.6 to the end may be useful (and you may want to at least look at the notation) but may be familiar if you have some philosophy of language
Chapter 5 - read all of it

Sept. 21, Representation theorems and interpretation


David Lewis, "Radical interpretation"
Donald Davidson, "Could there be a science of rationality?"

Sept. 28, Formal or real theories of utility

Amartya Sen, "Behaviour and the concept of preference"
Jamie Dreier, "Rational Preference: Decision theory as a theory of practical rationality"
(presentation by Aness Webster)

Oct. 5, What is an action?

Frank Jackson and Robert Pargetter, "Oughts, Options, and Actualism"
Brian Hedden, "Options and the Subjective Ought" (version available here)
(presentation by Steve Bero)

Oct. 12, Representation and belief

Lyle Zynda, "Representation Theorems and Realism about Degrees of Belief"
Lina Eriksson and Alan Hájek, "What are Degrees of Belief?"
(presentation by Julian Stone-Kronberg)

Oct. 19, Diachronic norms on belief

Bas van Fraassen, "Belief and the Problem of Ulysses and the Sirens"
David Christensen, "Clever Bookies and Coherent Beliefs"
(no presentation)

Oct. 26, Diachronic norms on desire

David Gauthier, "Assure and Threaten"
Peter Hinchman, "Trust and Diachronic Agency"
(presentation by Rima Basu)

Nov. 2, Risk aversion

Lara Buchak, Risk and Rationality, Chapter 1 and 2 (especially sections 2.1 and 2.4)
(presentation by Michael Pressman)

Nov. 9, Causal and Evidential Decision Theory

Huw Price, "Against Causal Decision Theory"
Frank Arntzenius, "No Regrets, or Edith Piaf Revamps Decision Theory"
(presentation by Abelard Podgorski)

Nov. 16, Paradoxes of infinity: St. Petersburg and Pasadena


John Broome, "The Two-Envelope Paradox"
Harris Nover and Alan Hájek, "Vexing Expectations"
Jeff Barrett and Frank Arntzenius, "Why the Infinite Decision Puzzle is Puzzling"
(presentation by John Peloquin)

Nov. 23, No class (day before Thanksgiving)

Nov. 30, Incomparable values

John Broome, "Incommensurable Values"
Caspare Hare, "Take the Sugar"
(presentation by Jacquelle Amankonah)

Final papers due (by e-mail as .pdf) by Sunday, December 11, unless you talk to me in advance