Success-First Decision Theories

In Arif Ahmed (ed.), Newcomb's Problem. Cambridge University Press. pp. 115–137 (2018)

Authors
Preston Greene
Nanyang Technological University, Singapore
Abstract
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 the agents who employ it to end up rich in worlds containing Newcomb problems and continues to outperform in other cases. This type of theory, which I call a “success-first” decision theory, is motivated by the desire to draw a tighter connection between rationality and success, rather than to support any particular account of expected utility. The primary aim of this paper is to provide a comprehensive justification of success-first decision theories as accounts of rational decision. I locate this justification in an experimental approach to decision theory supported by the aims of methodological naturalism.
Keywords Newcomb's problem  causal decision theory  evidential decision theory  realistic decision theory  methodological naturalism  Thomas Schelling  David Gauthier  Edward McClennen
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