The problems of transformative experience

Philosophical Studies:1-20 (forthcoming)

Yoaav Isaacs
University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill
Laurie Paul has recently argued that transformative experiences pose a problem for decision theory. According to Paul, agents facing transformative experiences do not possess the states required for decision theory to formulate its prescriptions. Agents facing transformative experiences are impoverished relative to their decision problems, and decision theory doesn’t know what to do with impoverished agents. Richard Pettigrew takes Paul’s challenge seriously. He grants that decision theory cannot handle decision problems involving transformative experiences. To deal with the problems posed by transformative experiences, Pettigrew proposes two alterations to decision theory. The first alteration is meant to handle the problem posed by epistemically transformative experiences, and the second alteration is meant to handle the problem posed by personally transformative experiences. I argue that Pettigrew’s proposed alterations are untenable. Pettigrew’s novel decision theory faces both formal and philosophical problems. It is doubtful that Pettigrew can formulate the sort of decision theory he wants, and further doubtful that he should want such a decision theory in the first place. Moreover, the issues with Pettigrew’s proposed alterations help reveal issues with Paul’s initial challenge to decision theory. I suggest that transformative experiences should not be taken to pose a problem for decision theory, but should instead be taken to pose a topic for ethics.
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DOI 10.1007/s11098-018-01235-3
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