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Rational Choice 1: Thinking and Deciding

12/16/2013

The authors make the distinction between automatic and controlled thinking, basically system 1 and 2. There’s also a much simpler definition of thinking that I think makes a lot more sense than Baron’s Chapter 1 in Thinking and Deciding. Thinking is “the creation of mental representations of what is not in the immediate environment” (3).

The authors also point out the computation model of mind as the current paradigm for looking at human thought and behavior. I should be able to describe this since I read Cognitive Science, but in short, it is thinking of the mind as manipulating symbols. The authors briefly cover why thought has become an important area of study, in contrast to the emphasis of psychoanalysis and behaviorism.

Finally comes the breakdown of rationality according to the authors. Rational choice must meet four criteria (from page 16):

  1. It is based on the decision maker’s current assets. Assets include the not only money, but also physiological state, psychological capacities, social relationships, and feelings.
  2. It is based on the possible consequences of the choice.
  3. When the consequences are uncertain, their likelihood is evaluated according to the basic rules of probability theory.
  4. It is a choice that is adaptive within the constraints of those probabilities and the values or satisfactions associated with each of the possible consequences of the choice.

I’m guessing these are just different ways of stating the “axioms of choice” by which expected utility theory works. If people violate these, they end up contradicting themselves.

What’s interesting is that none of the criteria make a decision about what ought to be valued. They all begin with what already is valued, and reason from there. I guess some values may contradict other values, but if the values are consistent, and yet we still find them horrible, they are not irrational by expected utility theory’s standards.

So questions remain: is there a way to choose better or worse initial values? Does EUT consider this at all? How could one even decide what values one ought to have, except on the basis of values already existing? Sounds impossible.

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