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Summary Causal decision theory (CDT) is one of the most prominent decision-theoretic accounts of rational choice. Developed in response to the well known Newcomb's problem (as outlined in Nozick 1969), the core idea of CDT is that causal (or perhaps certain sorts of counterfactual) notions should play a key role in determining what decision is rational in a given case. This could be contrasted with the view defended by proponents of evidential decision theory, a rival decision theory, according to which evidential, rather than causal, notions should be at the core of our decision-theoretic accounts of choice.
Key works The first paper to discuss causal decision theory in detail was Gibbard & Harper 1978 but a good entry point to the literature on the topic is Lewis 1981, which presents the various versions of CDT that were being discussed at the time and explores the links between them. For a more in depth look at the theory, Joyce 1999 is a good choice. This book starts from the very basics and goes on to provide a detailed discussion of causal decision theory.
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  1. Sequential Choice and the Agent's Perspective.Arif Ahmed - manuscript
    Causal Decision Theory reckons the choice-worthiness of an option to be completely independent of its evidential bearing on its non-effects. But after one has made a choice this bearing is relevant to future decisions. Therefore it is possible to construct problems of sequential choice in which Causal Decision Theory makes a guaranteed loss. So Causal Decision Theory is wrong. The source of the problem is the idea that agents have a special perspective on their own contemplated actions, from which evidential (...)
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  2. Frustration and Delay.Arif Ahmed - manuscript
    A decision problem where Causal Decision Theory (CDT) declines a free $1,000, with the foreseeable effect that the agent is $1,000 poorer, and in no other way better off, than if she had taken the offer.
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  3. Escaping the Cycle.J. Dmitri Gallow - manuscript
    I present a decision problem in which causal decision theory appears to violate the independence of irrelevant alternatives (IIA) and normal-form extensive-form equivalence (NEE). I show that these violations lead to exploitable behavior and long-run poverty. These consequences appear damning, but I urge caution. This decision should lead causalists to a better understanding of what it takes for a decision between some collection of options to count as a subdecision of a decision between a larger collection of options. And with (...)
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  4. Decision and Foreknowledge.J. Dmitri Gallow - manuscript
    My topic is how to make decisions when you possess foreknowledge of the consequences of your choice. Many have thought that these kinds of decisions pose a distinctive and novel problem for causal decision theory (CDT). My thesis is that foreknowledge poses no new problems for CDT. Some of the purported problems are not problems. Others are problems, but they are not problems for CDT. Rather, they are problems for our theories of subjunctive supposition. Others are problems, but they are (...)
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  5. Escaping the Cycle.J. Dmitri Gallow - manuscript
    I present a decision problem in which orthodox causal decision theory appears to violate weak versions of the independence of irrelevant alternatives (IIA) and normal-form extensive-form equivalence (NEE). I show that these violations lead to exploitable behavior and long-run poverty. These consequences appear damning, but I urge caution. Causalists can dispute the charge that they violate IIA and NEE in this case by carefully specifying when two options in different decision problems are similar enough to be counted as the same.
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  6. Unboxing the Concepts in Newcomb’s Paradox: Causation, Prediction, Decision in Causal Knowledge Patterns.Roland Poellinger - manuscript
    In Nozick’s rendition of the decision situation given in Newcomb’s Paradox dominance and the principle of maximum expected utility recommend different strategies. While evidential decision theory seems to be split over which principle to apply and how to interpret the principles in the first place, causal decision theory seems to go for the solution recommended by dominance. As a reply to the CDT proposal by Wolfgang Spohn, who opts for “one-boxing” by employing reflexive decision graphs, I will draw on the (...)
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  7. Counterfactual Desire as Belief.J. Robert G. Williams - manuscript
    Bryne & Hajek (1997) argue that Lewis’s (1988; 1996) objections to identifying desire with belief do not go through if our notion of desire is ‘causalized’ (characterized by causal, rather than evidential, decision theory). I argue that versions of the argument go through on certain assumptions about the formulation of decision theory. There is one version of causal decision theory where the original arguments cannot be formulated—the ‘imaging’ formulation that Joyce (1999) advocates. But I argue this formulation is independently objectionable. (...)
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  8. Smokers and Psychos: Egan Cases Don't Work.Arif Ahmed - 2010
    Andy Egan's Smoking Lesion and Psycho Button cases are supposed to be counterexamples to Causal Decision Theory. This paper argues that they are not: more precisely, it argues that if CDT makes the right call in Newcomb's problem then it makes the right call in Egan cases too.
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  9. Four Approaches to Supposition.Benjamin Eva, Ted Shear & Branden Fitelson - forthcoming - Ergo: An Open Access Journal of Philosophy.
    Suppositions can be introduced in either the indicative or subjunctive mood. The introduction of either type of supposition initiates judgments that may be either qualitative, binary judgments about whether a given proposition is acceptable or quantitative, numerical ones about how acceptable it is. As such, accounts of qualitative/quantitative judgment under indicative/subjunctive supposition have been developed in the literature. We explore these four different types of theories by systematically explicating the relationships canonical representatives of each. Our representative qualitative accounts of indicative (...)
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  10. Newcomb’s Problem, Arif Ahmed (Editor). Cambridge University Press, 2018, 233 Pages. [REVIEW]J. Dmitri Gallow - forthcoming - Economics and Philosophy.
    Newcomb’s Problem, Arif Ahmed (editor). Cambridge University Press, 2018, 233 pages.
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  11. Riches and Rationality.J. Dmitri Gallow - forthcoming - Australasian Journal of Philosophy 99 (1):114-129.
    A one-boxer, Erica, and a two-boxer, Chloe, engage in a familiar debate. The debate begins with Erica asking Chloe: ‘If you’re so smart, then why ain’cha rich?’. As the debate progresses, Chloe is led to endorse a novel causalist theory of rational choice. This new theory allows Chloe to forge a connection between rational choice and long-run riches. In brief: Chloe concludes that it is not long-run wealth but rather long-run wealth creation which is symptomatic of rationality.
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  12. A Dutch Book for CDT Thirders.Theodore Korzukhin - forthcoming - Synthese.
    I give a Dutch book argument for CDT thirders in the context of a generalized Sleeping Beauty scenario. In combination with the Briggs (2010) Dutch book for EDT thirders, this amounts to a purely decision-theoretic argument for halfing in Sleeping Beauty. In combination with the Hitchcock (2004) Dutch book for CDT halfers, this amounts to a Dutch book argument against CDT. The combined Dutch book against CDT invites a plausible diagnosis of the reasons for CDT’s failure: CDT is incompatible with (...)
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  13. The Evidentialist's Wager.William MacAskill, Aron Vallinder, Caspar Oesterheld, Carl Shulman & Johannes Treutlein - forthcoming - Journal of Philosophy.
    Suppose that an altruistic agent who is uncertain between evidential and causal decision theory finds herself in a situation where these theories give conflicting verdicts. We argue that even if she has significantly higher credence in CDT, she should nevertheless act in accordance with EDT. First, we claim that the appropriate response to normative uncertainty is to hedge one’s bets. That is, if the stakes are much higher on one theory than another, and the credences you assign to each of (...)
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  14. Tournament Decision Theory.Abelard Podgorski - forthcoming - Noûs.
    The dispute in philosophical decision theory between causalists and evidentialists remains unsettled. Many are attracted to the causal view’s endorsement of a species of dominance reasoning, and to the intuitive verdicts it gets on a range of cases with the structure of the infamous Newcomb’s Problem. But it also faces a rising wave of purported counterexamples and theoretical challenges. In this paper I will describe a novel decision theory which saves what is appealing about the causal view while avoiding its (...)
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  15. Causal Decision Theory’s Predetermination Problem.Toby Charles Penhallurick Solomon - forthcoming - Synthese:1-32.
    It has often been noted that there is some tension between engaging in decision-making and believing that one’s choices might be predetermined. The possibility that our choices are predetermined forces us to consider, in our decisions, act-state pairs which are inconsistent, and hence to which we cannot assign sensible utilities. But the reasoning which justifies two-boxing in Newcomb’s problem also justifies associating a non-zero causal probability with these inconsistent act-state pairs. Put together these undefined utilities and non-zero probabilities entail that (...)
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  16. No Crystal Balls.Jack Spencer - forthcoming - Noûs.
    The world is said to contain crystal balls whenever the present carries news of the as-yet-undetermined parts of the future. Many philosophers believe that crystal balls are metaphysically possible. In this essay, I argue that they are not. Whether crystal balls are possible matters, for at least two reasons. The first is epistemological. According to a simple, user-friendly chance norm for credence, which I call the Present Principle, agents are rationally required to conform their credences to their expectations of the (...)
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  17. Rational Monism and Rational Pluralism.Jack Spencer - forthcoming - Philosophical Studies.
    Consequentialists often assume rational monism: the thesis that options are always made rationally permissible by the maximization of the selfsame quantity. This essay argues that consequentialists should reject rational monism and instead accept rational pluralism: the thesis that, on different occasions, options are made rationally permissible by the maximization of different quantities. The essay then develops a systematic form of rational pluralism which, unlike its rivals, is capable of handling both the Newcomb problems that challenge evidential decision theory and the (...)
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  18. An Interventionist’s Guide to Exotic Choice.Reuben Stern - forthcoming - Mind:fzaa082.
    In this paper, I use interventionist causal models to identify some novel Newcomb problems, and subsequently use these problems to refine existing interventionist treatments of causal decision theory. The new Newcomb problems that stir trouble for existing interventionist treatments involve so-called "exotic choice" --- i.e., decision-making contexts where the agent has evidence about the outcome of her choice. I argue that when choice is exotic, the interventionist can adequately capture causal-decision-theoretic reasoning by introducing a new interventionist approach to updating on (...)
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  19. Causal Concepts and Temporal Ordering.Reuben Stern - forthcoming - Synthese:1-23.
    Though common sense says that causes must temporally precede their effects, the hugely influential interventionist account of causation makes no reference to temporal precedence. Does common sense lead us astray? In this paper, I evaluate the power of the commonsense assumption from within the interventionist approach to causal modeling. I first argue that if causes temporally precede their effects, then one need not consider the outcomes of interventions in order to infer causal relevance, and that one can instead use temporal (...)
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  20. Causal Decision Theory is Safe From Psychopaths.Timothy Luke Williamson - forthcoming - Erkenntnis:1-21.
    Until recently, many philosophers took Causal Decision Theory to be more successful than its rival, Evidential Decision Theory. Things have changed, however, with a renewed concern that cases involving an extreme form of decision instability are counterexamples to CDT :392–403, 1984; Egan in Philos Rev 116:93–114, 2007). Most prominent among those cases of extreme decision instability is the Psychopath Button, due to Andy Egan; in that case, CDT recommends a seemingly absurd act that almost certainly results in your death. This (...)
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  21. Law-Abiding Causal Decision Theory.Timothy Luke Williamson & Alexander Sandgren - forthcoming - British Journal for the Philosophy of Science.
    In this paper we discuss how Causal Decision Theory should be modified to handle a class of problematic cases involving deterministic laws. Causal Decision Theory, as it stands, is problematically biased against your endorsing deterministic propositions (for example it tells you to deny Newtonian physics, regardless of how confident you are of its truth). Our response is that this is not a problem for Causal Decision Theory per se, but arises because of the standard method for assessing the truth of (...)
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  22. Structural Decision Theory.Tung-Ying Wu - forthcoming - Philosophy of Science.
    Judging an act’s causal efficacy plays a crucial role in causal decision theory. A recent development appeals to the causal modeling framework with an emphasis on the analysis of intervention based on the causal Bayes net for clarifying what causally depends on our acts. However, few writers have focused on exploring the usefulness of extending structural causal models to decision problems that are not ideal for intervention analysis. I found that it is structural models, rather than intervention analysis, serves as (...)
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  23. Determinism, Counterfactuals, and Decision.Alexander Sandgren & Timothy Luke Williamson - 2021 - Australasian Journal of Philosophy 99 (2):286-302.
    Rational agents face choices, even when taking seriously the possibility of determinism. Rational agents also follow the advice of Causal Decision Theory (CDT). Although many take these claims to be well-motivated, there is growing pressure to reject one of them, as CDT seems to go badly wrong in some deterministic cases. We argue that deterministic cases do not undermine a counterfactual model of rational deliberation, which is characteristic of CDT. Rather, they force us to distinguish between counterfactuals that are relevant (...)
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  24. An Argument Against Causal Decision Theory.Jack Spencer - 2021 - Analysis 81 (1):52-61.
    This paper develops an argument against causal decision theory. I formulate a principle of preference, which I call the Guaranteed Principle. I argue that the preferences of rational agents satisfy the Guaranteed Principle, that the preferences of agents who embody causal decision theory do not, and hence that causal decision theory is false.
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  25. Equal Opportunities in Newcomb’s Problem and Elsewhere.Arif Ahmed - 2020 - Mind 129 (515):867-886.
    The paper discusses Ian Wells’s recent argument that there is a decision problem in which followers of Evidential Decision Theory end up poorer than followers of Causal Decision Theory despite having the same opportunities for money. It defends Evidential Decision Theory against Wells’s argument, on the following grounds. Wells's has not presented a decision problem in which his main claim is true. Four possible decision problems can be generated from his central example, in each of which followers of Evidential Decision (...)
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  26. Frankfurt Cases and the Newcomb Problem.Arif Ahmed - 2020 - Philosophical Studies 177 (11):3391-3408.
    A standard argument for one-boxing in Newcomb’s Problem is ‘Why Ain’cha Rich?’, which emphasizes that one-boxers typically make a million dollars compared to the thousand dollars that two-boxers can expect. A standard reply is the ‘opportunity defence’: the two-boxers who made a thousand never had an opportunity to make more. The paper argues that the opportunity defence is unavailable to anyone who grants that in another case—a Frankfurt case—the agent is deprived of opportunities in the way that advocates of Frankfurt (...)
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  27. Intentions and Instability: A Defence of Causal Decision Theory.Adam Bales - 2020 - Philosophical Studies 177 (3):793-804.
    Andy Egan has recently presented a prominent objection to causal decision theory. However, in this paper, I argue that this objection fails if CDT’s proponent accepts the plausible view that decision-theoretic options are intentions. This result both provides a defence of CDT against a prominent objection and highlights the importance of resolving the nature of decision-theoretic options.
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  28. Newcomb University: A Play in One Act.Adam Elga - 2020 - Analysis 80 (2):212-221.
    Counter-intuitive consequences of both causal decision theory and evidential decision theory are dramatized. Each of those theories is thereby put under some pressure to supply an error theory to explain away intuitions that seem to favour the other. Because trouble is stirred up for both sides, complacency about Newcomb’s problem is discouraged.
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  29. The Causal Decision Theorist's Guide to Managing the News.J. Dmitri Gallow - 2020 - Journal of Philosophy 117 (3):117-149.
    According to orthodox causal decision theory, performing an action can give you information about factors outside of your control, but you should not take this information into account when deciding what to do. Causal decision theorists caution against an irrational policy of 'managing the news'. But, by providing information about factors outside of your control, performing an act can give you two, importantly different, kinds of good news. It can tell you that the world in which you find yourself is (...)
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  30. The Termination Risks of Simulation Science.Preston Greene - 2020 - Erkenntnis 85 (2):489-509.
    Historically, the hypothesis that our world is a computer simulation has struck many as just another improbable-but-possible “skeptical hypothesis” about the nature of reality. Recently, however, the simulation hypothesis has received significant attention from philosophers, physicists, and the popular press. This is due to the discovery of an epistemic dependency: If we believe that our civilization will one day run many simulations concerning its ancestry, then we should believe that we are probably in an ancestor simulation right now. This essay (...)
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  31. Evidence and Rationalization.Ian Wells - 2020 - Philosophical Studies 177 (3):845-864.
    Suppose that you have to take a test tomorrow but you do not want to study. Unfortunately you should study, since you care about passing and you expect to pass only if you study. Is there anything you can do to make it the case that you should not study? Is there any way for you to ‘rationalize’ slacking off? I suggest that such rationalization is impossible. Then I show that if evidential decision theory is true, rationalization is not only (...)
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  32. Causal Decision Theory and Decision Instability.Brad Armendt - 2019 - Journal of Philosophy 116 (5):263-277.
    The problem of the man who met death in Damascus appeared in the infancy of the theory of rational choice known as causal decision theory. A straightforward, unadorned version of causal decision theory is presented here and applied, along with Brian Skyrms’ deliberation dynamics, to Death in Damascus and similar problems. Decision instability is a fascinating topic, but not a source of difficulty for causal decision theory. Andy Egan’s purported counterexample to causal decision theory, Murder Lesion, is considered; a simple (...)
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  33. Review of Arif Ahmed (Ed.), Newcomb's Problem. [REVIEW]Jack Spencer - 2019 - Notre Dame Philosophical Reviews 2019.
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  34. Why Take Both Boxes?Jack Spencer & Ian Wells - 2019 - Philosophy and Phenomenological Research 99 (1):27-48.
    The crucial premise of the standard argument for two-boxing in Newcomb's problem, a causal dominance principle, is false. We present some counterexamples. We then offer a metaethical explanation for why the counterexamples arise. Our explanation reveals a new and superior argument for two-boxing, one that eschews the causal dominance principle in favor of a principle linking rational choice to guidance and actual value maximization.
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  35. Equal Opportunity and Newcomb’s Problem.Ian Wells - 2019 - Mind 128 (510):429-457.
    The 'Why ain'cha rich?' argument for one-boxing in Newcomb's problem allegedly vindicates evidential decision theory and undermines causal decision theory. But there is a good response to the argument on behalf of causal decision theory. I develop this response. Then I pose a new problem and use it to give a new 'Why ain'cha rich?' argument. Unlike the old argument, the new argument targets evidential decision theory. And unlike the old argument, the new argument is sound.
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  36. Newcomb's Problem.Arif Ahmed (ed.) - 2018 - Cambridge University Press.
    Newcomb's Problem is a controversial paradox of decision theory. It is easily explained and easily understood, and there is a strong chance that most of us have actually faced it in some form or other. And yet it has proven as thorny and intractable a puzzle as much older and better-known philosophical problems of consciousness, scepticism and fatalism. It brings into very sharp and focused disagreement several long-standing philosophical theories on practical rationality, on the nature of free will, and on (...)
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  37. Decision-Theoretic Pluralism.Adam Bales - 2018 - Philosophical Quarterly 68 (273):801-818.
    A prominent philosophical debate concerns whether we should accept causal decision theory or evidential decision theory as our best theory of rational choice. However, instead of accepting one of these theories at the expense of the other, an alternative would be to accept that both theories play a partial role in the true account of rational choice. In this paper, I defend a pluralist account of this sort. In particular, I argue that rational permissibility is an indeterminate notion, with EDT (...)
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  38. Richness and Rationality: Causal Decision Theory and the WAR Argument.Adam Bales - 2018 - Synthese 195 (1):259-267.
    Causal decision theory is one of our most prominent theories of rational choice and the “why ain’cha rich?” argument is one of the most prominent objections to this theory. According to WAR, CDT is not an adequate theory of rational choice because it leads agents to make decisions that foreseeably leave them less well off than agents that decide in some other manner. Some philosophers take WAR to decisively undermine CDT. On the other hand, others take WAR to fail to (...)
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  39. Success-First Decision Theories.Preston Greene - 2018 - In Arif Ahmed (ed.), Newcomb's Problem. Cambridge University Press. pp. 115–137.
    The standard formulation of Newcomb's problem compares evidential and causal conceptions of expected utility, with those maximizing evidential expected utility tending to end up far richer. Thus, in a world in which agents face Newcomb problems, the evidential decision theorist might ask the causal decision theorist: "if you're so smart, why ain’cha rich?” Ultimately, however, the expected riches of evidential decision theorists in Newcomb problems do not vindicate their theory, because their success does not generalize. Consider a theory that allows (...)
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  40. The Faulty Signal Problem: Counterfactual Asymmetries in Causal Decision Theory and Rational Deliberation.Daniel Listwa - 2018 - Synthese 195 (6):2717-2739.
    A decision theory can be useful not only as a tool for determining which action, given your desires and beliefs, is most preferable, but also as a means for analyzing the nature of rational deliberation. In this paper, I turn to two classic proposals for a causal decision theory, that of Lewis and that of Sobel :407–437, 1986. doi: 10.1080/00048408612342621). As Rabinowicz revealed, Lewis’ proposal is unable to be applied to as broad a set of decision problems as a version (...)
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  41. "Click!" Bait for Causalists.Huw Price & Yang Liu - 2018 - In Arif Ahmed (ed.), Newcomb's Problem. Cambridge ; New York, NY: Cambridge University Press. pp. 160-179.
    Causalists and Evidentialists can agree about the right course of action in an (apparent) Newcomb problem, if the causal facts are not as initially they seem. If declining $1,000 causes the Predictor to have placed $1m in the opaque box, CDT agrees with EDT that one-boxing is rational. This creates a difficulty for Causalists. We explain the problem with reference to Dummett's work on backward causation and Lewis's on chance and crystal balls. We show that the possibility that the causal (...)
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  42. Do the EPR Correlations Pose a Problem for Causal Decision Theory?Adam Koberinski, Lucas Dunlap & William L. Harper - 2017 - Synthese:1-12.
    We argue that causal decision theory is no worse off than evidential decision theory in handling entanglement, regardless of one’s preferred interpretation of quantum mechanics. In recent works, Ahmed and Ahmed and Caulton : 4315–4352, 2014) have claimed the opposite; we argue that they are mistaken. Bell-type experiments are not instances of Newcomb problems, so CDT and EDT do not diverge in their recommendations. We highlight the fact that a Causal Decision Theorist should take all lawlike correlations into account, including (...)
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  43. Interventionist Decision Theory.Reuben Stern - 2017 - Synthese 194 (10):4133-4153.
    Jim Joyce has argued that David Lewis’s formulation of causal decision theory is inadequate because it fails to apply to the “small world” decisions that people face in real life. Meanwhile, several authors have argued that causal decision theory should be developed such that it integrates the interventionist approach to causal modeling because of the expressive power afforded by the language of causal models, but, as of now, there has been little work towards this end. In this paper, I propose (...)
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  44. The Pauper’s Problem: Chance, Foreknowledge and Causal Decision Theory.Adam Bales - 2016 - Philosophical Studies 173 (6):1497-1516.
    In a letter to Wlodek Rabinowicz, David Lewis introduced a decision scenario that he described as “much more problematic for decision theory than the Newcomb Problems”. This scenario, which involves an agent with foreknowledge of the outcome of some chance process, has received little subsequent attention. However, in one of the small number of discussions of such cases, Huw Price's Causation, Chance and the Rational Significance of Supernatural Evidence it has been argued that cases of this sort pose serious problems (...)
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  45. Against Counterfactual Miracles.Cian Dorr - 2016 - Philosophical Review 125 (2):241-286.
    This paper considers how counterfactuals should be evaluated on the assumption that determinism is true. I argue against Lewis's influential view that the actual laws of nature would have been false if something had happened that never actually happened, and in favour of the competing view that history would have been different all the way back. I argue that we can do adequate justice to our ordinary practice of relying on a wide range of historical truths in evaluating counterfactuals by (...)
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  46. Self‐Reinforcing and Self‐Frustrating Decisions.Caspar Hare & Brian Hedden - 2016 - Noûs 50 (3):604-628.
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  47. Conditioning, Intervening, and Decision.Christopher Hitchcock - 2016 - Synthese 193 (4).
    Clark Glymour, together with his students Peter Spirtes and Richard Scheines, did pioneering work on graphical causal models . One of the central advances provided by these models is the ability to simply represent the effects of interventions. In an elegant paper , Glymour and his student Christopher Meek applied these methods to problems in decision theory. One of the morals they drew was that causal decision theory should be understood in terms of interventions. I revisit their proposal, and extend (...)
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  48. Arif Ahmed: Evidence, Decision and Causality.James M. Joyce - 2016 - Journal of Philosophy 113 (4):224-232.
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  49. Evil and God's Toxin Puzzle.John Pittard - 2016 - Noûs 50 (2):88-108.
    I show that Kavka's toxin puzzle raises a problem for the “Responsibility Theodicy,” which holds that the reason God typically does not intervene to stop the evil effects of our actions is that such intervention would undermine the possibility of our being significantly responsible for overcoming and averting evil. This prominent theodicy seems to require that God be able to do what the agent in Kavka's toxin story cannot do: stick by a plan to do some action at a future (...)
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  50. A New Problem with Mixed Decisions, Or: You’Ll Regret Reading This Article, But You Still Should.Benjamin Plommer - 2016 - Erkenntnis 81 (2):349-373.
    Andy Egan recently drew attention to a class of decision situations that provide a certain kind of informational feedback, which he claims constitute a counterexample to causal decision theory. Arntzenius and Wallace have sought to vindicate a form of CDT by describing a dynamic process of deliberation that culminates in a “mixed” decision. I show that, for many of the cases in question, this proposal depends on an incorrect way of calculating expected utilities, and argue that it is therefore unsuccessful. (...)
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