Representation Theorems and Radical Interpretation


This paper begins with a puzzle regarding Lewis' theory of radical interpretation. On the one hand, Lewis convincingly argued that the facts about an agent's sensory evidence and choices will always underdetermine the facts about her beliefs and desires. On the other hand, we have several representation theorems—such as those of (Ramsey 1931) and (Savage 1954)—that are widely taken to show that if an agent's choices satisfy certain constraints, then those choices can suffice to determine her beliefs and desires. In this paper, I will argue that Lewis' conclusion is correct: choices radically underdetermine beliefs and desires, and representation theorems provide us with no good reasons to think otherwise. Any tension with those theorems is merely apparent, and relates ultimately to the difference between how 'choices' are understood within Lewis' theory and the problematic way that they're represented in the context of the representation theorems. For the purposes of radical interpretation, representation theorems like Ramsey's and Savage's just aren't very relevant after all.

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Edward J. R. Elliott
University of Leeds


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