The Story of Rational Action

Philosophical Topics 21 (1):229-254 (1993)
Abstract
Decision theory comprises, first, a mathematical formalization of the relations among value, belief, and preference; and second, a set of prescriptions for rational preference. Both aspects of the theory are embodied in a single mathematical proof. The problem in the foundations of decision theory is to explain how elements of one and the same proof can serve both functions. I hope to solve this problem in a way that anchors the decision-theoretic norms of rational preference in fundamental intuitions about rationality in general. I will thus depart from the tradition of anchoring those norms in intui-tions about gambling strategies or preference structures of the sort that are the special concern of the theory itself. Although my interpretation is meant to capture what is right about the decision-theoretic conception of rational preference, it will lead me to argue that there is also something fundamentally wrong about that conception. In my view, decision theory tells us how to be rational in our preferences because it tells us how to have preferences that make sense; but there are ways of making sense that outrun, and may in fact conflict with, the prescriptions of decision theory.
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