Decision Theory in Light of Newcomb’s Problem

Philosophy of Science 52 (3):431-450 (1985)
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Should we act only for the sake of what we might bring about (causal decision theory); or is it enough for a decent motive that our action is highly correlated with something desirable (evidential decision theory)? The conflict between these points of view is embodied in Newcomb's problem. It is argued here that intuitive evidence from familiar decision contexts does not enable us to settle the issue, since the two theories dictate the same results in normal circumstances. Nevertheless, there are several reasons to reject the causal approach: (1) its relative complexity; (2) its commitment to the existence of situations in which every possible act would be irrational; (3) its incorporation of an arbitrary time bias; and (4) its implicit distinction between what ought to be done and what ought to be hoped for



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Paul Horwich
New York University

Citations of this work

Notes on decision theory: Old wine in new bottles.Jordan Howard Sobel - 1986 - Australasian Journal of Philosophy 64 (4):407 – 437.
Why scientists gather evidence.Patrick Maher - 1990 - British Journal for the Philosophy of Science 41 (1):103-119.
Partition-theorems for causal decision theories.Jordan Howard Sobel - 1989 - Philosophy of Science 56 (1):70-93.
Decision-Theoretic Pluralism.Adam Bales - 2018 - Philosophical Quarterly 68 (273):801-818.

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References found in this work

The Foundations of Statistics.Leonard J. Savage - 1954 - Synthese 11 (1):86-89.
Causal decision theory.David Lewis - 1981 - Australasian Journal of Philosophy 59 (1):5 – 30.
Counterfactuals and Two Kinds of Expected Utility.Allan Gibbard & William L. Harper - 1978 - In A. Hooker, J. J. Leach & E. F. McClennen (eds.), Foundations and Applications of Decision Theory. D. Reidel. pp. 125-162.

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