Real-Life Decisions and Decision Theory

In Sabine Roeser, Rafaela Hillerbrand, Per Sandin & Martin Peterson (eds.), Handbook of Risk Theory. Springer (2012)
Some decisions result in cognitive consequences such as information gained and information lost. The focus of this study, however, is decisions with consequences that are partly or completely noncognitive. These decisions are typically referred to as ‘real-life decisions’. According to a common complaint, the challenges of real-life decision making cannot be met by decision theory. This complaint has at least two principal motives. One is the maximizing objection that to require agents to determine the optimal act under real-world constraints is unrealistic. The other is the precision objection that the numeric requirements for applying decision theory are overly demanding for real-life decisions. Responses to both objections are aired in the History section of this chapter. The maximizing objection is addressed with reference to work by Weirich and Pollock, while the precision objection is countered via a proposal by Kyburg and another by Gärdenfors and Sahlin. However, the Current Research section urges a different response to the precision objection by introducing a comparative version of decision theory. Drawing on Chu and Halpern’s notion of generalized expected utility, this version of decision theory permits many choices to be based on merely comparative plausibilities and utilities. Finally, the Further Research section undertakes an open-ended exploration of three of the assumptions upon which this form of decision theory (and many others) is based: transitivity, independence, and plausibilistic decision rules.
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John R. Welch (2013). New Tools for Theory Choice and Theory Diagosis. Studies in History and Philosophy of Science 44 (3):318-329.

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