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Res Philosophica

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published on July 3, 2015

John Collins
DOI: 10.11612/resphil.2015.92.2.6

Neophobia

L. A. Paul argues that epistemically transformative choice poses a special problem for standard theories of decision: when values of outcomes cannot be known in advance, deliberation cannot even get started. A standard response to this is to represent ignorance of the nature of an experience as uncertainty about its utility. Assign subjective probabilities over the range of possible utilities it may have, and an expected utility for the outcome can be figured despite the agent’s ignorance of its nature. But this response to Paul’s challenge seems inadequate. Decision theory should leave conceptual room for rational neophobia. A decision theory like Isaac Levi’s, which allows for indeterminacy in utility, might accomodate the phenomenon. Levi’s discussion of indeterminate utility has focused on examples of risk aversion like the Allais problem and on situations in which there are conflicts of value. Cases of unknowable value arising in transformative choice problems might be handled similarly.

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