Expected Comparative Utility Theory: A New Theory of Rational Choice

Philosophical Forum 49 (1):19-37 (2018)
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Abstract

In this paper, I argue for a new normative theory of rational choice under risk, namely expected comparative utility (ECU) theory. I first show that for any choice option, a, and for any state of the world, G, the measure of the choiceworthiness of a in G is the comparative utility (CU) of a in G—that is, the difference in utility, in G, between a and whichever alternative to a carries the greatest utility in G. On the basis of this principle, I then argue that for any agent, S, faced with any decision under risk, S should rank his or her decision options (in terms of how choiceworthy they are) according to their comparative expected comparative utility (CECU) and should choose whichever option carries the greatest CECU. For any option, a, a’s CECU is the difference between its ECU and that of whichever alternative to a carries the greatest ECU, where a’s ECU is a probability‐weighted sum of a’s CUs across the various possible states of the world. I lastly demonstrate that in some ordinary decisions under risk, ECU theory delivers different verdicts from those of standard decision theory.

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