A Representation Theorem for Frequently Irrational Agents

Journal of Philosophical Logic 46 (5):467-506 (2017)
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The standard representation theorem for expected utility theory tells us that if a subject’s preferences conform to certain axioms, then she can be represented as maximising her expected utility given a particular set of credences and utilities—and, moreover, that having those credences and utilities is the only way that she could be maximising her expected utility. However, the kinds of agents these theorems seem apt to tell us anything about are highly idealised, being always probabilistically coherent with infinitely precise degrees of belief and full knowledge of all a priori truths. Ordinary subjects do not look very rational when compared to the kinds of agents usually talked about in decision theory. In this paper, I will develop an expected utility representation theorem aimed at the representation of those who are neither probabilistically coherent, logically omniscient, nor expected utility maximisers across the board—that is, agents who are frequently irrational. The agents in question may be deductively fallible, have incoherent credences, limited representational capacities, and fail to maximise expected utility for all but a limited class of gambles.

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Edward J. R. Elliott
University of Leeds


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