Biased information and the exchange paradox

Synthese 196 (6):2455-2485 (2019)
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Abstract

This paper presents a new solution to the well-known exchange paradox, or what is sometimes referred to as the two-envelope paradox. Many recent commentators have analyzed the paradox in terms of the agent’s biased concern for the contents of his own arbitrarily chosen envelope, claiming that such bias violates the manifest symmetry of the situation. Such analyses, however, fail to make clear exactly how the symmetry of the situation is violated by the agent’s hypothetical conclusion that he ought to switch envelopes on the assumption that his own envelope contains some specific amount of money. In this paper, I offer an explanation of this fact based on the idea that the agent’s deliberations are not only constrained by the epistemic symmetry reflected in the agent’s uniform ignorance as to the contents of the two envelopes, but also by a deeper methodological symmetry that manifests itself in the intuition that the two envelopes constitute equally legitimate sources of potential information. I interpret this intuition as implying that the agent’s final decision should reflect a point of rational equilibrium arrived at through an iterated process of counterfactual self-reflection, whereby the agent takes account of what he would have thought had he instead chosen the other envelope. I provide a formal model of this method of counterfactual self-reflection and show, in particular, that it cannot issue in the paradoxical conclusion that the agent ought to switch regardless of how much money is in his envelope. In this way, by correcting for the bias in the agent’s reasoning, the paradox is resolved.

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Anubav Vasudevan
University of Chicago

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References found in this work

The Foundations of Statistics.Leonard J. Savage - 1954 - Wiley Publications in Statistics.
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Probability Theory. The Logic of Science.Edwin T. Jaynes - 2002 - Cambridge University Press: Cambridge. Edited by G. Larry Bretthorst.

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