LaraBuchak sets out a new account of rational decision-making in the face of risk. She argues that the orthodox view is too narrow, and suggests an alternative, more permissive theory: one that allows individuals to pay attention to the worst-case or best-case scenario, and vindicates the ordinary decision-maker.
What is faith? LaraBuchak has done as much as anyone recently to answer our question in a sensible and instructive fashion. As it turns out, her writings reveal two theories of faith, an early one and a later one (or, if you like, two versions of the same theory). In what follows, we aim to do three things. First, we will state and assess Buchak’s early theory, highlighting both its good-making and bad-making features. Second, we will (...) do the same for her later theory, noting improvements on the early one. Third, we will mark various choice points in theorizing about faith, and we will argue for specific choices at those points, culminating in what we regard as a better, alternative theory of faith. Our critical aims, therefore, are ultimately constructive. By theorizing about faith with LaraBuchak, we aim to contribute to our common understanding of what faith is. (shrink)
A natural view in distributive ethics is that everyone's interests matter, but the interests of the relatively worse off matter more than the interests of the relatively better off. I provide a new argument for this view. The argument takes as its starting point the proposal, due to Harsanyi and Rawls, that facts about distributive ethics are discerned from individual preferences in the "original position." I draw on recent work in decision theory, along with an intuitive principle about risk-taking, to (...) derive the view. (shrink)
There are currently two robust traditions in philosophy dealing with doxastic attitudes: the tradition that is concerned primarily with all-or-nothing belief, and the tradition that is concerned primarily with degree of belief or credence. This paper concerns the relationship between belief and credence for a rational agent, and is directed at those who may have hoped that the notion of belief can either be reduced to credence or eliminated altogether when characterizing the norms governing ideally rational agents. It presents a (...) puzzle which lends support to two theses. First, that there is no formal reduction of a rational agent’s beliefs to her credences, because belief and credence are each responsive to different features of a body of evidence. Second, that if our traditional understanding of our practices of holding each other responsible is correct, then belief has a distinctive role to play, even for ideally rational agents, that cannot be played by credence. The question of which avenues remain for the credence-only theorist is considered. (shrink)
This paper provides an account of what it is to have faith in a proposition p, in both religious and mundane contexts. It is argued that faith in p doesn’t require adopting a degree of belief that isn’t supported by one’s evidence but rather it requires terminating one’s search for further evidence and acting on the supposition that p. It is then shown, by responding to a formal result due to I.J. Good, that doing so can be rational in a (...) number of circumstances. If expected utility theory is the correct account of practical rationality, then having faith can be both epistemically and practically rational if the costs associated with gathering further evidence or postponing the decision are high. If a more permissive framework is adopted, then having faith can be rational even when there are no costs associated with gathering further evidence. (shrink)
In the peer disagreement debate, three intuitively attractive claims seem to conflict: there is disagreement among peers on many important matters; peer disagreement is a serious challenge to one’s own opinion; and yet one should be able to maintain one’s opinion on important matters. I show that contrary to initial appearances, we can accept all three of these claims. Disagreement significantly shifts the balance of the evidence; but with respect to certain kinds of claims, one should nonetheless retain one’s beliefs. (...) And one should retain them even though these beliefs would not be supported by the new total evidence if one didn’t already hold them. (shrink)
The ‘rollback argument,’ pioneered by Peter van Inwagen, purports to show that indeterminism in any form is incompatible with free will. The argument has two major premises: the first claims that certain facts about chances obtain in a certain kind of hypothetical situation, and the second that these facts entail that some actual act is not free. Since the publication of the rollback argument, the second claim has been vehemently debated, but everyone seems to have taken the first claim for (...) granted. Nevertheless, the first claim is totally unjustified. Even if we accept the second claim, therefore, the argument gives us no reason to think that free will and indeterminism are incompatible. Furthermore, seeing where the rollback argument goes wrong illuminates how a certain kind of incompatibilist, the ‘chance-incompatibilist,’ ought to think about free will and chance, and points to a possibility for free will that has remained largely unexplored. (shrink)
Faith is a central attitude in Christian religious practice. The problem of faith and reason is the problem of reconciling religious faith with the standards for our belief-forming practices in general (‘ordinary epistemic standards’). In order to see whether and when faith can be reconciled with ordinary epistemic standards, we first need to know what faith is. This chapter examines and catalogues views of propositional faith: faith that p. It is concerned with the epistemology of such faith: what cognitive attitudes (...) does such faith require, what epistemic norms govern these attitudes, and whether Christian faith can ever adhere to them. (shrink)
In “Can it be rational to have faith?”, it was argued that to have faith in some proposition consists, roughly speaking, in stopping one’s search for evidence and committing to act on that proposition without further evidence. That paper also outlined when and why stopping the search for evidence and acting is rationally required. Because the framework of that paper was that of formal decision theory, it primarily considered the relationship between faith and degrees of belief, rather than between faith (...) and belief full stop. This paper explores the relationship between rational faith and justified belief, by considering four prominent proposals about the relationship between belief and degrees of belief, and by examining what follows about faith and belief according to each of these proposals. It is argued that we cannot reach consensus concerning the relationship between faith and belief at present because of the more general epistemological lack of consensus over how belief relates to rationality: in particular, over how belief relates to the degrees of belief it is rational to have given one’s evidence. (shrink)
It is sometimes said that faith is recalcitrant in the face of new evidence, but it is puzzling how such recalcitrance could be rational or laudable. I explain this aspect of faith and why faith is not only rational, but in addition serves an important purpose in human life. Because faith requires maintaining a commitment to act on the claim one has faith in, even in the face of counter-evidence, faith allows us to carry out long-term, risky projects that we (...) might otherwise abandon. Thus, faith allows us to maintain integrity over time. (shrink)
Decision theory has at its core a set of mathematical theorems that connect rational preferences to functions with certain structural properties. The components of these theorems, as well as their bearing on questions surrounding rationality, can be interpreted in a variety of ways. Philosophy’s current interest in decision theory represents a convergence of two very different lines of thought, one concerned with the question of how one ought to act, and the other concerned with the question of what action consists (...) in and what it reveals about the actor’s mental states. As a result, the theory has come to have two different uses in philosophy, which we might call the normative use and the interpretive use. It also has a related use that is largely within the domain of psychology, the descriptive use. This essay examines the historical development of decision theory and its uses; the relationship between the norm of decision theory and the notion of rationality; and the interdependence of the uses of decision theory. (shrink)
This paper addresses the question of whether gathering additional evidence is always rationally required, both from the point of view of instrumental rationality and of epistemic rationality. It is shown that in certain situations, it is not instrumentally rational to look for more evidence before making a decision. These are situations in which the risk of “misleading” evidence – a concept that has both instrumental and epistemic senses – is not offset by the gains from the possibility of non-misleading evidence. (...) These situations also undermine a particular argument for the claim that it is epistemically rational to look for more evidence, though it is argued that the relationship between instrumental and epistemic rationality makes such arguments flawed to begin with. Furthermore, these situations show us that our epistemic and our practical goals sometimes point us in different directions, not merely because of our limited resources or because our desires are sometimes best served by being in particular epistemic states, but because of the nature of rational action. (shrink)
I have claimed that risk-weighted expected utility maximizers are rational, and that their preferences cannot be captured by expected utility theory. Richard Pettigrew and Rachael Briggs have recently challenged these claims. Both authors argue that only EU-maximizers are rational. In addition, Pettigrew argues that the preferences of REU-maximizers can indeed be captured by EU theory, and Briggs argues that REU-maximizers lose a valuable tool for simplifying their decision problems. I hold that their arguments do not succeed and that my original (...) claims still stand. However, their arguments do highlight some costs of REU theory. (shrink)
Some early phase clinical studies of candidate HIV cure and remission interventions appear to have adverse medical risk–benefit ratios for participants. Why, then, do people participate? And is it ethically permissible to allow them to participate? Recent work in decision theory sheds light on both of these questions, by casting doubt on the idea that rational individuals prefer choices that maximise expected utility, and therefore by casting doubt on the idea that researchers have an ethical obligation not to enrol participants (...) in studies with high risk–benefit ratios. This work supports the view that researchers should instead defer to the considered preferences of the participants themselves. This essay briefly explains this recent work, and then explores its application to these two questions in more detail. (shrink)
One phenomenon arising in epistemic life is allegiance to, and break from, a tradition. This phenomenon has three central features. First, individuals who adhere to a tradition seem to respond dogmatically to evidence against their tradition. Second, individuals from different traditions appear to see the same evidence differently. And third, conversion from one tradition to another appears to be different in kind from ordinary belief shift. This paper uses recent work on the nature and rationality of faith to show that (...) these features can all emerge from individuals acting rationally—in particular, from individuals rationally having faith in the core assumptions of their traditions. One upshot is that we don’t need to employ the idea of incommensurability to explain these features. (shrink)
To counter the pandemic caused by severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2, some have proposed accelerating SARS-CoV-2 vaccine development through controlled human infection trials. These trials would involve the deliberate exposure of relatively few young, healthy volunteers to SARS-CoV-2. We defend this proposal against the charge that there is still too much uncertainty surrounding the risks of COVID-19 to responsibly run such a trial.
This essay argues that when setting climate policy, we should place more weight on worse possible consequences of a policy, while still placing some weight on better possible consequences. The argument proceeds by elucidating the range of attitudes people can take towards risk, how we must make choices for people when we don’t know their risk-attitudes, and the situation we are in with respect to climate policy and the consequences for future people. The result is an alternative to the Precautionary (...) Principle, an alternative that gives similar policy recommendations in many cases but is also sensitive to the costs of precautions. (shrink)
My book Risk and Rationality argues for a new alternative to the orthodox theory of rational decision-making. This alternative, risk-weighted expected utility maximization, holds that there are three important components involved in rational decision-making: utilities, probabilities, and risk-attitudes. This essay explains the basic outline of the theory and precisely how it differs from the orthodox theory. It also summarizes the main threads of argument in the book.
The orthodox theory of instrumental rationality, expected utility (EU) theory, severely restricts the way in which risk-considerations can figure into a rational individual's preferences. It is argued here that this is because EU theory neglects an important component of instrumental rationality. This paper presents a more general theory of decision-making, risk-weighted expected utility (REU) theory, of which expected utility maximization is a special case. According to REU theory, the weight that each outcome gets in decision-making is not the subjective probability (...) of that outcome; rather, the weight each outcome gets depends on both its subjective probability and its position in the gamble. Furthermore, the individual's utility function, her subjective probability function, and a function that measures her attitude towards risk can be separately derived from her preferences via a Representation Theorem. This theorem illuminates the role that each of these entities plays in preferences, and shows how REU theory explicates the components of instrumental rationality. (shrink)
Does postulating skeptical theism undermine the claim that evil strongly confirms atheism over theism? According to Perrine and Wykstra, it does undermine the claim, because evil is no more likely on atheism than on skeptical theism. According to Draper, it does not undermine the claim, because evil is much more likely on atheism than on theism in general. I show that the probability facts alone do not resolve their disagreement, which ultimately rests on which updating procedure – conditionalizing or updating (...) on a conditional – fits both the evidence and how we ought to take that evidence into account. (shrink)
The good of those who are worse off matters more to the overall good than the good of those who are better off does. But being worse off than one’s fellows is not itself bad; nor is inequality itself bad; nor do differences in well-being matter more when well-being is lower in an absolute sense. Instead, the good of the relatively worse-off weighs more heavily in the overall good than the good of the relatively better-off does, in virtue of the (...) fact that they are relatively worse off. This paper articulates and defends the view just described. [keywords: inequality, utilitarianism, egalitarianism, prioritarianism, aggregation]. (shrink)
The good of those who are worse off matters more to the overall good than the good of those who are better off does. But being worse off than one’s fellows is not itself bad; nor is inequality itself bad; nor do differences in well-being matter more when well-being is lower in an absolute sense. Instead, the good of the relatively worse-off weighs more heavily in the overall good than the good of the relatively better-off does, in virtue of the (...) fact that the former are relatively worse off. This paper articulates and defends the view just described. (shrink)
Within philosophy of action, there are three broad views about what, in addition to beliefs, answer the question of “what to do?” and so determine an agent’s motivation: desires, judgments about values/reasons, or states of the will, such as intentions. We argue that recent work in decision theory vindicates the volitionalist. “What to do?” isn’t settled by “what do I value” or “what reasons are there?” Rational motivation further requires determining how to trade off the possibility of a good outcome (...) against the possibility of a bad one—i.e., determining how much of a risk to take. The risk attitudes that embody this tradeoff seem best understood as intentions: as self-governing policies to weight desires or reasons in certain ways. That we need to settle our risk attitudes before making most decisions corroborates Bratman’s claim that self-governing policies are required for resolving impasses of evaluative and normative underdetermination. Moreover, far from being rare or confined to tie-breakings, cases that are underdetermined but for one’s risk attitudes are typical of everyday decision-making. The will is required for most rational action. (shrink)
Oxford Studies in Philosophy of Religion is an annual volume offering a regular snapshot of state-of-the-art work in this longstanding area of philosophy that has seen an explosive growth of interest over the past half century.
Evolutionary applications of game theory present one of the most pedagogically accessible varieties of genuine, contemporary theoretical biology. We present here Oyun (OY-oon, http://charlespence.net/oyun), a program designed to run iterated prisoner’s dilemma tournaments, competitions between prisoner’s dilemma strategies developed by the students themselves. Using this software, students are able to readily design and tweak their own strategies, and to see how they fare both in round-robin tournaments and in “evolutionary” tournaments, where the scores in a given “generation” directly determine contribution (...) to the population in the next generation. Oyun is freely available, runs on Windows, Mac, and Linux computers, and the process of creating new prisoner’s dilemma strategies is both easy to teach and easy for students to grasp. We illustrate with two interesting examples taken from actual use of Oyun in the classroom. (shrink)
Dutch Book Arguments. B is susceptibility to sure monetary loss (in a certain betting set-up), and F is the formal role played by non-Pr b’s in the DBT and the Converse DBT. Representation Theorem Arguments. B is having preferences that violate some of Savage’s axioms (and/or being unrepresentable as an expected utility maximizer), and F is the formal role played by non-Pr b’s in the RT.
How should a group with different opinions (but the same values) make decisions? In a Bayesian setting, the natural question is how to aggregate credences: how to use a single credence function to naturally represent a collection of different credence functions. An extension of the standard Dutch-book arguments that apply to individual decision-makers recommends that group credences should be updated by conditionalization. This imposes a constraint on what aggregation rules can be like. Taking conditionalization as a basic constraint, we gather (...) lessons from the established work on credence aggregation, and extend this work with two new impossibility results. We then explore contrasting features of two kinds of rules that satisfy the constraints we articulate: one kind uses fixed prior credences, and the other uses geometric averaging, as opposed to arithmetic averaging. We also prove a new characterisation result for geometric averaging. Finally we consider applications to neighboring philosophical issues, including the epistemology of disagreement. (shrink)
In recent years, the increase in stress experienced by students, and the related health problems have become a key challenge for health psychologists. The aim of this cross-sectional survey study was to compare stress, areas of stress and coping-strategies of 246 distance-learning and 254 on-campus students. One-way analyses of variance showed no significant differences in perceived stress and stress symptoms between the student groups. Stress-inducing areas were revealed by qualitative content analysis. Chi-square tests showed that on-campus students significantly more often (...) reported study- and performance-related areas, whereas conflicts between work and private life were more present among distance-learning students. Results also indicated that on-campus students significantly more often cope with stress by means of social support. These findings may help tailoring stress-management interventions for different student groups. (shrink)