Hierarchical maximization of two kinds of expected utility

Philosophy of Science 55 (4):560-582 (1988)
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Causal decision theory produces decision instability in cases such as Death in Damascus where a decision itself provides evidence concerning the utility of options. Several authors have proposed ways of handling this instability. William Harper (1985 and 1986) advances one of the most elegant proposals. He recommends maximizing causal expected utility among the options that are causally ratifiable. Unfortunately, Harper's proposal imposes certain restrictions; for instance, the restriction that mixed strategies are freely available. To obtain a completely general method of handling decision instability, I step outside the confines of pure causal decision theory. I introduce a new kind of backtracking expected utility and propose maximizing it among the options that are causally ratifiable. In other words, I propose a hierarchical maximization of (1) conditional causal expected utility and (2) the new backtracking expected utility. I support this proposal with some intuitive considerations concerning the distinction between optimality and conditional optimality. And I prove that the proposal yields a solution in every finite decision problem



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Paul Weirich
University of Missouri, Columbia

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References found in this work

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.
Pragmatics and Empiricism.Brian Skyrms - 1986 - British Journal for the Philosophy of Science 37 (4):514-516.
Causal decision theory.Brian Skyrms - 1982 - Journal of Philosophy 79 (11):695-711.
Counterfactuals and newcomb’s problem.Terence Horgan - 1981 - Journal of Philosophy 78 (6):331-356.

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