Munich Center for Mathematical Philosophy (MCMP)

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Workshop on “Rational Choice and First-Person Experience” (28 April 2023)


09:30 - 10:45 Marina Moreno (LMU): The (Im)possibility of prudence
11:15 - 12:30 Laurie Paul (Yale): Value by acquaintance
12:30 - 14:00 Lunch Break
14:00 - 15:15 Richard Pettigrew (Bristol): What to do when a transformative experience might change your attitudes to risk
15:30 - 16:45 Johanna Thoma (Bayreuth): Against preference-based instrumental rationality
17:00 - 18:15

Toby Solomon (LMU): Some reasons to think ought sometimes implies only might


To register, please email (indicating also your affiliation).


Geschwister-Scholl-Platz 1, Room M210, ZEPP seminar room, university main building, 80539 München


Marina Moreno, “The (Im)possibility of prudence”

Prudence can be understood to be concerned with balancing the well-being of different versions of ourselves at various times. For example, willingly experiencing a temporary decrease in well-being in the present, such as enduring a painful dental treatment, to ensure an improved level of well-being in the future, represents a paradigmatic case of prudent behavior. An adequate theory of prudence will thus offer guidance to evaluate different trade-offs between various selves, both across time and possible worlds. I sketch the scope and relevance of such a theory of prudence and draw attention to an underappreciated challenge it faces: A comprehensive theory of prudence must be capable of evaluating not only choices that impact the levels of well-being of various selves, but also choices that affect the number of selves that come into existence. Given this requirement, prudence shares a structural similarity with population ethics: In both contexts, we assess the comparative value of a population of selves/people, which may vary in size and level of well-being. I explore this structural similarity, particularly in relation to the well-known impossibility theorems of population ethics, and point out the most promising approaches for developing a theory of prudence. I conclude by discussing general lessons about well-being, prudence, and population ethics, as well as their conceptual connections.

Laurie Paul, “Value by acquaintance”

I argue that the distinctive relationship between knowledge-that and knowledge-how, recognized by anti-intellectualists and intellectualists alike, implies an analogously distinctive relationship between knowing that something has value and knowing how it has value. Recognizing the importance of knowing how to value has implications for a number of philosophical contexts where valuing plays a role, such as those involving moral testimony, moral expertise, aesthetic judgments, epistemic injustice, testimonial injustice, and many kinds of decision making. In the last part of the paper I will begin to explore these implications with some examples.

Richard Pettigrew, “What to do when a transformative experience might change your attitudes to risk“

Transformative experiences can teach us things we cannot learn in any other way, and they can lead us to change what we value. L. A. Paul has argued that these pose problems for standard decision theory, and elsewhere I've tried to show that they can be accommodated within it. But transformative experiences might also lead us to change our attitudes to risk, and I will argue here that decision theory cannot accommodate these.

Johanna Thoma, “Against preference-based instrumental rationality“

Orthodox decision theory is often thought to be a theory of instrumental, or means-ends rationality, telling us how to best serve our ends, but not what those ends ought to be. This raises two connected questions, a question of interpretation and a question of justification: How are the notions of means, ends and desire supposed to map onto the elements of decision theory, such as preference and utility? And can the core substantive requirements of orthodox decision theory be justified as requirements of instrumental rationality? I here present a critique of an answer to the question of interpretation that is implicitly or explicitly assumed by most decision theorists, namely what I call ‘preference-based instrumental rationality’. According to preference-based instrumental rationality, preferences as they feature in decision-theoretic models form the standard of instrumental rationality. They are the attitudes that pick out an agent’s ends and the standard we use to rationally evaluate her choices. I present four challenges to preference-based instrumental rationality. First, it does not allow us to diagnose instrumental rationality in some cases of intuitive instrumental defect. Second, it does not allow use to give an instrumentalist justification for some simple and compelling dominance principles. Third, it does not allow us to cast interventions proposed by some influential behavioural welfare economists as means paternalist, leaving us unable to explain their popularity. And fourth, preferences of the sort that feature in decision-theoretic models intuitively stand at the end of instrumental reasoning, not at the beginning, and have little explanatory power in their own right. I will end by sketching an alternative account of the standard of instrumental rationality which implies a radically different, but more compelling instrumentalist interpretation and justification of decision theory.

Toby Solomon, “Some reasons to think ought sometimes implies only might“

Many people believe that ought implies can. However, when the ought in question is the ought of practical rationality we face a tension between this thesis and another thesis—namely, that the ought of practical rationality should be entirely first-person. Or, in other words, that the ought of practical rationality should depend only on how the agent views things to be, and not on how the world, unbeknownst to them, happens to be. Koon ("Options must be external", Phil. Stud., 2020) has argued (in response to Hedden, "Options and the subjective ought", Phil. Stud., 2012) that we should resolve this tension in favour of ought-implies-can. Here I will present some reasons to think we should instead resolve it in favour of first-person accessibility. This will lead us to accept a weaker ought-implies-only-might principle. I will, however, remain pluralist—there may be several practical oughts, useful in different contexts, which obey different ought-implies-ability-modal principles.