Success-First Decision Theories

In Arif Ahmed (ed.), Newcomb's Problem. Cambridge University Press. pp. 115–137 (2018)
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Abstract

The standard formulation of Newcomb's problem compares evidential and causal conceptions of expected utility, with those maximizing evidential expected utility tending to end up far richer. Thus, in a world in which agents face Newcomb problems, the evidential decision theorist might ask the causal decision theorist: "if you're so smart, why ain’cha rich?” Ultimately, however, the expected riches of evidential decision theorists in Newcomb problems do not vindicate their theory, because their success does not generalize. Consider a theory that allows the agents who employ it to end up rich in worlds containing Newcomb problems and continues to outperform in other cases. This type of theory, which I call a “success-first” decision theory, is motivated by the desire to draw a tighter connection between rationality and success, rather than to support any particular account of expected utility. The primary aim of this paper is to provide a comprehensive justification of success-first decision theories as accounts of rational decision. I locate this justification in an experimental approach to decision theory supported by the aims of methodological naturalism.

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