Letters from Long Ago: On Causal Decision Theory and Centered Chances

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This paper argues that expected utility theory for actions in chancy environments should be formulated in terms of centered chances. The subjective expected utility of an option A may be seen as a weighted sum of the utilities of A in different possible worlds, with weights being the credences that the agent assigns to these worlds. The utility of A in a given world is then definable as a weighted sum of the values of A’s different possible outcomes, with weights being the conditional chances (in that world) of these outcomes if A were performed. On the centered-chance view, the chances to be used as weights in the definition of utility are centered. Unlike ordinary chances, centered chances depend not only on what happens prior to the agent’s choice but also on the events that occur after the choice. Thus, to give an example, suppose that the action under consideration results in a bad outcome due to some event whose ordinary (i.e. non-centered) chance of occurring was very low at the time of choice. Then the utility of that action in the actual world could be high on the non-centered view, but on the centered view that utility is negative (as distinct from its expected utility), since the centered chance of the event in question given the action was one, given that it did actually take place. A precise definition of centered chances is not easy to frame, but the concept can be made intuitively clear. The resulting decision theory is, in my opinion, philosophically more satisfactory than the extant proposals, even though it doesn’t differ much in its practical recommendations, with the exception of some rather peculiar cases.
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationLogic, Ethics, and All That Jazz - Essays in Honour of Jordan Howard Sobel
EditorsLars-Göran Johansson
PublisherUppsala Philosophical Studies
ISBN (Print)978-91-506-2078-8
Publication statusPublished - 2009

Publication series

ISSN (Print)1402-1110

Subject classification (UKÄ)

  • Philosophy


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