According to comparativism, degrees of belief are reducible to a system of purely ordinal comparisons of relative confidence. (For example, being more confident that P than that Q, or being equally confident that P and that Q.) In this paper, I raise several general challenges for comparativism, relating to (i) its capacity to illuminate apparently meaningful claims regarding intervals and ratios of strengths of belief, (ii) its capacity to draw enough intuitively meaningful and theoretically relevant distinctions between doxastic states, and (...) (iii) its capacity to handle common instances of irrationality. (shrink)
The standard representation theorem for expected utility theory tells us that if a subject’s preferences conform to certain axioms, then she can be represented as maximising her expected utility given a particular set of credences and utilities—and, moreover, that having those credences and utilities is the only way that she could be maximising her expected utility. However, the kinds of agents these theorems seem apt to tell us anything about are highly idealised, being always probabilistically coherent with infinitely precise degrees (...) of belief and full knowledge of all a priori truths. Ordinary subjects do not look very rational when compared to the kinds of agents usually talked about in decision theory. In this paper, I will develop an expected utility representation theorem aimed at the representation of those who are neither probabilistically coherent, logically omniscient, nor expected utility maximisers across the board—that is, agents who are frequently irrational. The agents in question may be deductively fallible, have incoherent credences, limited representational capacities, and fail to maximise expected utility for all but a limited class of gambles. (shrink)
Comparativism is the view that comparative confidences (e.g., being more confident that P than that Q) are more fundamental than degrees of belief (e.g., believing that P with some strength x). In this paper, I outline the basis for a new, non-probabilistic version of comparativism inspired by a suggestion made by Frank Ramsey in `Probability and Partial Belief'. I show how, and to what extent, `Ramseyan comparativism' might be used to weaken the (unrealistically strong) probabilistic coherence conditions that comparativism traditionally (...) relies on. (shrink)
Frank Ramsey's ‘Truth and Probability’ sketches a proposal for the empirical measurement of credences, along with a corresponding set of axioms for a representation theorem intended to characterize the preference conditions under which this measurement process is applicable. There are several features of Ramsey's formal system which make it attractive and worth developing. However, in specifying his measurement process and his axioms, Ramsey introduces the notion of an ethically neutral proposition, the assumed existence of which plays a key role throughout (...) Ramsey's system. A number of later representation theorems have also appealed to ethically neutral propositions. The notion of ethical neutrality has often been called into question — in fact, there seem to be good reasons to suppose that no ethically neutral propositions exist. In this paper, I present several new, Ramsey-inspired representation theorems that avoid any appeal to ethical neutrality. These theorems preserve the benefits of Ramsey's system, without paying the cost of ethical neutrality. (shrink)
This paper provides an exposition and defence of Lewis' theory of radical interpretation. The first part explains what Lewis' theory was; the second part explains what it wasn't, and in so doing addresses a number of common objections that arise as a result of widespread myths and misunderstandings about how Lewis' theory is supposed to work.
One response to the problem of logical omniscience in standard possible worlds models of belief is to extend the space of worlds so as to include impossible worlds. It is natural to think that essentially the same strategy can be applied to probabilistic models of partial belief, for which parallel problems also arise. In this paper, I note a difficulty with the inclusion of impossible worlds into probabilistic models. Under weak assumptions about the space of worlds, most of the propositions (...) which can be constructed from possible and impossible worlds are in an important sense inexpressible; leaving the probabilistic model committed to saying that agents in general have at least as many attitudes towards inexpressible propositions as they do towards expressible propositions. If it is reasonable to think that our attitudes are generally expressible, then a model with such commitments looks problematic. (shrink)
A review of some major topics of debate in normative decision theory from circa 2007 to 2019. Topics discussed include the ongoing debate between causal and evidential decision theory, decision instability, risk-weighted expected utility theory, decision-making with incomplete preferences, and decision-making with imprecise credences.
Possible worlds models of belief have difficulties accounting for unawareness, the inability to entertain (and hence believe) certain propositions. Accommodating unawareness is important for adequately modelling epistemic states, and representing the informational content to which agents have in principle access given their explicit beliefs. In this paper, I develop a model of explicit belief, awareness, and informational content, along with an sound and complete axiomatisation. I furthermore defend the model against the seminal impossibility result of Dekel, Lipman and Rustichini, according (...) to which three intuitive conditions preclude non-trivial unawareness on any possible worlds model of belief. (shrink)
Frank Plumpton Ramsey (1903–30) made seminal contributions to philosophy, mathematics and economics. Whilst he was acknowledged as a genius by his contemporaries, some of his most important ideas were not appreciated until decades later; now better appreciated, they continue to bear an influence upon contemporary philosophy. His historic significance was to usher in a new phase of analytic philosophy, which initially built upon the logical atomist doctrines of Bertrand Russell and Ludwig Wittgenstein, raising their ideas to a new level of (...) sophistication, but ultimately he became their successor rather than remain a mere acolyte. (shrink)
According to the preference-centric approach to understanding partial belief, the connection between partial beliefs and preferences is key to understanding what partial beliefs are and how they’re measured. As Ramsey put it, the ‘degree of a belief is a causal property of it, which we can express vaguely as the extent to which we are prepared to act on it’ The Foundations of Mathematics and Other Logical Essays, Routledge, Oxon, pp 156–198, 1931). But this idea is not as popular as (...) it once was. Nowadays, the preference-centric approach is frequently dismissed out-of-hand as behaviouristic, unpalatably anti-realist, and/or prone to devastating counterexamples. Cases like Eriksson and Hájek’s :183–213, 2007) preferenceless Zen monk and Christensen’s :356–376, 2001) other roles argument have suggested to many that any account of partial belief that ties them too closely to preferences is irretrievably flawed. In this paper I provide a defence of preference-centric accounts of partial belief. (shrink)
If beliefs are a map by which we steer, then, ceteris paribus, we should want a more accurate map. However, the world could be structured so as to punish learning with respect to certain topics—by learning new information, one’s situation could be worse than it otherwise would have been. We investigate whether the world is structured so as to punish learning specifically about moral nihilism. We ask, if an ordinary person had the option to learn the truth about moral nihilism, (...) ought she to take it? We argue, given plausible assumptions about ordinary human preferences, she should not. (shrink)
According to Epistemic Two-Dimensional Semantics (E2D), expressions have a counterfactual intension and an epistemic intension. Epistemic intensions reflect cognitive significance such that sentences with necessary epistemic intensions are a priori. We defend E2D against an influential line of criticism: arguments from epistemic misclassification. We focus in particular on the arguments of Speaks  and Schroeter . Such arguments conclude that E2D is mistaken from (i) the claim that E2D is committed to classifying certain sentences as a priori, and (ii) the (...) claim that such sentences are a posteriori. We aim to show that these arguments are unsuccessful as (i) and (ii) undercut each other. One must distinguish the general framework of E2D from a specific implementation of it. The framework is flexible enough to avoid commitment to the apriority of any particular sentence; only specific implementations are so committed. Arguments from epistemic misclassification are therefore better understood as arguments for favouring one implementation of E2D over another, rather than as refutations of E2D. (shrink)
Decision-theoretic representation theorems have been developed and appealed to in the service of two important philosophical projects: in attempts to characterise credences in terms of preferences, and in arguments for probabilism. Theorems developed within the formal framework that Savage developed have played an especially prominent role here. I argue that the use of these ‘Savagean’ theorems create significant difficulties for both projects, but particularly the latter. The origin of the problem directly relates to the question of whether we can have (...) credences regarding acts currently under consideration and the consequences which depend on those acts; I argue that such credences are possible. Furthermore, I argue that attempts to use Jeffrey’s non-Savagean theorem in the service of these two projects may not fare much better. (shrink)
ABSTRACT According to comparativism, comparative confidence is more fundamental than absolute confidence. In two recent AJP papers, Stefánsson has argued that comparativism is capable of explaining interpersonal confidence comparisons. In this paper, I will argue that Stefansson’s proposed explanation is inadequate; that we have good reasons to think that comparativism cannot handle interpersonal comparisons; and that the best explanation of interpersonal comparisons requires thinking about confidence in a fundamentally different way than that which comparativists propose: specifically, we should think of (...) confidence as a dimensionless quantity. (shrink)
This paper begins with a puzzle regarding Lewis' theory of radical interpretation. On the one hand, Lewis convincingly argued that the facts about an agent's sensory evidence and choices will always underdetermine the facts about her beliefs and desires. On the other hand, we have several representation theorems—such as those of (Ramsey 1931) and (Savage 1954)—that are widely taken to show that if an agent's choices satisfy certain constraints, then those choices can suffice to determine her beliefs and desires. In (...) this paper, I will argue that Lewis' conclusion is correct: choices radically underdetermine beliefs and desires, and representation theorems provide us with no good reasons to think otherwise. Any tension with those theorems is merely apparent, and relates ultimately to the difference between how 'choices' are understood within Lewis' theory and the problematic way that they're represented in the context of the representation theorems. For the purposes of radical interpretation, representation theorems like Ramsey's and Savage's just aren't very relevant after all. (shrink)