Newly published: "Objects of Choice"

My "Objects of Choice" paper has now appeared in Mind.

The paper asks how we should understand an agent's decision-theoretic options. That is, what are the things whose expected utility we are supposed to maximize? I think the question is a lot harder than often assumed. For example, I argue that it won't do to say that the options are certain "willings" or "intentions", as some authors have suggested.

In many respects, the problem of options mirrors the "input problem" for Bayesianism: what are the propositions on which rational agents are supposed to conditionalise (or Jeffrey-conditionalise)?

In both cases, I suggest that no ordinary propositions can do the job, so we have to introduce an extra dimension into the algebra over which credences are defined.

For the input side, I have speculated (here and here) that the extra dimension in our doxastic space may shed light on the puzzle of phenomenal consciousness: an agent with this kind of cognitive architecture will be tempted to think that reality itself has an extra dimension of facts that are directly revealed through perceptual experience and only contingently related to physical facts.

This raises a question I'm not sure how to answer: why is there no corresponding puzzle for actions, if I'm right that this also involves an extra dimension in cognitive space? Why do perceptions appear to have a non-physical character, but choices or actions don't?

Perhaps the answer is that they do. Several people (e.g. Pacherie 2011, Butterfill and Sinigaglia 2012, or Cavese 2015) have argued that we have special "practical" modes of representing our own actions. Perhaps one can raise problems analogous to the hard problem of consciousness about these practical representations. For example, one might argue that neutral, non-practical information about the world never settles which practical representation is true. Still, it's odd that the puzzle is much more striking for perceptual representations.


# on 18 October 2020, 02:56

What if the traditional problem of free will is the primary manifestation of this puzzle for the case of choices or actions? That would make the puzzle equally or even more striking than in the case of perceptual representations.

It seems to fit: we feel we have a kind of power, we feel we can make these choices, we feel our will is free in some sense that transcends merely not being locked up in a room or whatever, and yet we find it hard to square this with a naturalistic picture of the world...

Please take care Wolfgang - you appear to be in danger of solving the problems of philosophy.

# on 18 October 2020, 14:42

Haha, thanks Tristan. You're right that the appearance of agential liberty is an intriguing application of this model. I'm not sure. There are interesting questions about what one should think if one has evidence that the physical world is causally closed, and yet there are these extra facts in one's doxastic space that are probabilistically related to physical facts. But I guess similar questions arise in the case of perception. Need to think about this some more.

It's always a pleasant surprise if someone has actually read and understood something I wrote!

Add a comment

Please leave these fields blank (spam trap):

No HTML please.
You can edit this comment until 30 minutes after posting.