What does decision theory have to do with wanting?

Mind 130 (518):413-437 (2021)
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Abstract

Decision theory and folk psychology both purport to represent the same phenomena: our belief-like and desire- and preference-like states. They also purport to do the same work with these representations: explain and predict our actions. But they do so with different sets of concepts. There's much at stake in whether one of these two sets of concepts can be accounted for with the other. Without such an account, we'd have two competing representations and systems of prediction and explanation, a dubious dualism. Folk psychology structures our daily lives and has proven fruitful in the study of mind and ethics, while decision theory is pervasive in various disciplines, including the quantitative social sciences, especially economics, and philosophy. My interest is in accounting for folk psychology with decision theory -- in particular, for believe and wanting, which decision theory omits. Many have attempted this task for belief. (The Lockean Thesis says that there is such an account.) I take up the parallel task for wanting, which has received far less attention. I propose necessary and sufficient conditions, stated in terms of decision theory, for when you're truly said to want; I give an analogue of the Lockean Thesis for wanting. My account is an alternative to orthodox accounts that link wanting to preference (e.g. Stalnaker (1984), Lewis (1986)), which I argue are false. I argue further that want ascriptions are context-sensitive. My account explains this context-sensitivity, makes sense of conflicting desires, and accommodates phenomena that motivate traditional theses on which 'want' has multiple senses (e.g. all-things-considered vs. pro tanto).

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Author's Profile

Milo Phillips-Brown
University of Edinburgh

Citations of this work

Desiderative Lockeanism.Milo Phillips-Brown - forthcoming - Australasian Journal of Philosophy.
Desire.Kyle Blumberg & John Hawthorne - 2022 - Philosophers' Imprint 22.
Look at the time!David Builes - 2022 - Analysis 82 (1):15-23.
Wanting what’s not best.Kyle Blumberg & John Hawthorne - 2021 - Philosophical Studies 179 (4):1275-1296.

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References found in this work

On the Plurality of Worlds.David K. Lewis - 1986 - Malden, Mass.: Wiley-Blackwell.
The moral problem.Michael Smith - 1994 - Cambridge, Mass., USA: Blackwell.
Actions, Reasons, and Causes.Donald Davidson - 1963 - Journal of Philosophy 60 (23):685.
Risk and Rationality.Lara Buchak - 2013 - Oxford, GB: Oxford University Press.

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