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Thinking and Deciding 14: Decision analysis and values

09/22/2013

This chapter is about applying multi-attribute utility theory. This involves breaking down decisions into many different values, and looking at how each one is fulfilled by each option. Then we give each value it’s weight, multipy, add, and out pops a final utility value.

Fundamental vs. means values

In order to correctly assess values, one must distinguish between things valued in themselves, and things valued as means to the fundamental values. If fifteen values are only worth it to fulfill the sixteenth, then the total value of the fifteen cannot be more than the sixteenth, and sacrificing 1 through 8 for 16 would be worthwhile.

Discovering values

Page 344 has a list of interesting questions worth asking oneself to determine values, from Kenney (1992). “1. Make a wish list. If you had no limitations at all, what would your objectives be?”

That’s quite a question. Reminds me of “what would you do if you could not fail?” I’d say “discover everything that I ought to do, and precisely how to do it.”

Rules and tradeoffs

This section is basically “taboo tradeoffs.” Some people claim that life has infinite value. I think it’s not that hard to show that the implications of this makes you either a hypocrite, or insane. Would you spend a million to save one life when that same million could cure 1 million people with arthritis? If not, what if that million simply bought a 1% chance of saving a life vs. 100% chance of curing 1 million arthritics? Keep on lowering the chances of saving the life, and a life of infinite value would still win out. This is the reductio ad absurdum.

And of course we all buy dumb stuff when that money might provide a small chance of saving a life. Television? You could have paid for some vaccines. Nintendo Wii? More vaccines.

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