Decision Theory

Instructor: Bernhard Salow

Michaelmas Term 2020, Fridays, 1:30-3:30pm, online

We will discuss a variety of debates in decision theory. A continuing theme will be how we should deal with sequences of decisions, and whether there is anything problematic about decision theories whose recommendations at each point in a sequence add up to an overall course of action that is clearly suboptimal. Another theme will be how epistemology and decision theory inform and constrain one another.

The schedule below is provisional, but the readings for a session will not be changed after Friday of the week before. Handouts will be posted at least one hour before each session.

To students 'taking' (rather than merely 'auditing') the class: I would ask you to email me questions about the readings by noon on the day before each session. These needn't be sophisticated objections in disguise -- clarificatory questions (including things like "I couldn't follow what was going on in section X") or questions about the literature (including things like "Are people generally convinced by the argument in section Y?") are just fine. The main purpose of this is to help me get a sense for what you (collectively) are finding difficult/interesting/etc. It would be great if you could send me at least one question for at least five of the sessions. (Students who are merely auditing the class are welcome to submit questions too, if they want.)

Readings should be accessible via institutional subscriptions, but let me know if you have any problems.

Week 1: Probabilities, Utilities, and Preferences
Main readings: Johanna Thoma, 'Decision Theory'; James Dreier, 'Rational Preference'

Week 2: Risk-Aversion
Main readings: Lara Buchak, 'Risk and Tradeoffs' (especially §§1-3); Johanna Thoma and Jonathan Weisberg, 'Risk Writ Large'

Week 3: Imprecision
Main readings: Adam Elga, 'Subjective Probabilities Should be Sharp'; Seamus Bradley and Katie Steele, 'Should Subjective Probabilities be Sharp?'
Additional readings: Sarah Moss, 'Credal Dilemmas'

Week 4: Diachronic Choice
Main readings: Lara Buchak, 'Diachronic Choice'
Additional reading: Brian Hedden, 'Options and Diachronic Tragedy'

Week 5: Evidence Externalism
Main reading: Timothy Williamson, 'Evidential Probability' (sections 10.3-10.6); Nilanjan Das, 'Externalism and Exploitability'
Additional readings: Bernhard Salow, 'Elusive Externalism'

Week 6: Evidential vs Causal Decision Theory I
Main readings: David Lewis, 'Causal Decision Theory' (§§1-5); Arif Ahmed, 'Dicing with Death'; Jack Spencer, 'An Argument against Causal Decision Theory'

Week 7: Evidential vs Causal Decision Theory II
Main reading: Dmitri Gallow, 'The Causal Decision Theorist's Guide to Managing the News'

Week 8: Epistemic Decision Theory
Main readings: Hilary Greaves, 'Epistemic Decision Theory'; Jason Konek and Benjamin A. Levinstein, 'The Foundations of Epistemic Decision Theory'
Additional reading: Richard Pettigrew, 'Making Things Right: The True Consequences of Decision Theory in Epistemology' (especially §2)