Wolfgang Schwarz

Three kinds of preference

The decision-theoretic concept of preference is linked to the concepts of subjective probability and utility by the expected utility principle:

(EUP) A rational agent prefers X to Y iff the expected utility of X exceeds the expected utility of Y.

Economists usually take preference to be the more basic concept and interpret the EUP as an implicit definition of the agent's utilities (and sometimes also her probabilities).

Justification at a distance

According to a popular picture, some beliefs are justified by "seemings": under certain conditions, if it seems to you that P, then you are justified to believe that P, without the assistance of other beliefs. So seemings provide a kind of foundation for belief, albeit a fallible kind of foundation.

Lewis on possible worlds and the grounds of modality

Friends of primitive powers and dispositions often contrast their view with an alternative view, usually attributed to Lewis, on which modal facts about powers, dispositions, laws, counterfactuals etc. are grounded in facts about other possible worlds. But Lewis never held that alternative view – nor did anyone else, as far as I know. The allegedly mainstream alternative is entirely made of straw. The real alternative that should be addressed is the reductionist view that powers and dispositions are reducible to ultimately non-modal elements of the actual world.

Dicing with death

In his "Dicing with Death" (2014), Arif Ahmed presents the following scenario as a counterexample to causal decision theory (CDT):

Acting under a description

Bob's favourite piano piece is Beethoven's Moonlight Sonata. Alice would like to play Bob's favourite piece, and she can play the Moonlight Sonata, but she doesn't know that it is Bob favourite piece, nor can she find out that it is. Can Alice play Bob's favourite piano piece?

What are our options? (again)

In decision theory, the available options are often glossed informally as the acts the agent can perform, or the propositions she can make true. But this yields implausible results in cases where an agent has doubts about what she can do.

The Galilean equivalence

It is tempting to think that there is nothing more to physical quantities than their nomic role: that to have a certain mass just is to behave in such-and-such a way under such-and-such conditions.

Effective Altruistism and ethical consumerism

In chapter 8 of Doing Good Better, William MacAskill argues that we should not make a great effort to reduce our carbon emissions, to buy Fairtrade coffee, or to boycott sweatshops. The reason is that these actions have at best a small impact on improving other people's lives and so the cost and effort is better spent elsewhere.

Mechanistic evidence for probabilistic models

You observe a process that generates two kinds of outcomes, 'heads' and 'tails'. The outcomes appear in seemingly random order, with roughly the same amount of heads as tails. These observations support a probabilistic model of the process, according to which the probability of heads and of tails on each trial is 1/2, independently of the other outcomes.

IDT again

In my recent post on Interventionist Decision Theory, I suggested that causal interventionists should follow Stern and move from a Jeffrey-type definition of expected utility to a Savage-Lewis-Skyrms type definition. In that case, I also suggested that they could avoid various problems arising from the concept of an intervention by construing the agent's actions as ordinary events. In conversation, Reuben Stern convinced me that things are not so easy.

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