Decision Theory without Luminosity

Yoaav Isaacs, Benjamin A Levinstein

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Our decision-theoretic states are not luminous. We are imperfectly reliable at identifying our own credences, utilities and available acts, and thus can never be more than imperfectly reliable at identifying the prescriptions of decision theory. The lack of luminosity affords decision theory a remarkable opportunity — to issue guidance on the basis of epistemically inaccessible facts. We show how a decision theory can guarantee action in accordance with contingent truths about which an agent is arbitrarily uncertain. It may seem that such advantages would require dubiously adverting to externalist facts that go beyond the internalism of traditional decision theory, but this is not so. Using only the standard repertoire of decision-theoretic tools, we show how to modify existing decision theories to take advantage of this opportunity. These improved decision theories require agents to maximize conditional expected utility — expected utility conditional upon an agent’s actual decision situation. We call such modified decision theories ‘self-confident’. These self-confident decision theories have a distinct advantage over standard decision theories: their prescriptions are better.
Original languageEnglish (US)
Article numberfzad037
Pages (from-to)346-376
Number of pages31
Issue number530
Early online dateSep 8 2023
StatePublished - Apr 1 2024


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