[SydPhil] Reminder: Philippe Mongin (CNRS, Paris) @ Wed 20 Mar 2013 15:30 - 17:30 (Seminars)
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Tue Mar 19 15:30:13 AEDT 2013
This is a reminder for:
Title: Philippe Mongin (CNRS, Paris)
The Allais Paradox: What it Was Not, What it Became, What it Could Have Been
Few problems in decision theory have raised more interest, and be followed
by more technical work, than the celebrated Allais paradox of the 1950s.
Enough has been written on this paradox at the level of decision theory
itself for history and philosophy of science now to enter stage. This seems
to be the moment for the owl of Minerva to spread its wings over the field.
First playing the role of the historian, I will recount the paradox as it
arose, i.e., in 1952, at a conference in Paris attended by the great
decision theorists of the time. The "American school" drew renewed
confidence in expected utility theory (EUT) from the way von Neumann and
Morgenstern had axiomatized it in 1947, and Allais devised his puzzle
precisely to shaken this confidence. As I will emphasize, the issue between
the two camps was only the normative side of EUT, but this fact of the
matter became lost in the developments of the 1970s and 1980s that - rather
belatedly - brought fame to the "Allais paradox". At that time, it became
interpreted as an empirical problem, and a major one at that, since all the
new, non-EU theories, made a point of recovering it in order to prove their
Now playing the role of the philosopher, I will try to evaluate the
dramatic shift of interpretation that took place between 1952 and the
1970s. Were decision theorists right to turn their back to the normative
issues that Allais had initially in mind? They were to an extent, because
the change in meaning was accompanied with a surge of experiments, and
owing to them, it became possible to conclude safely that EUT was
empirically refuted, that a certain independence axiom of von
Neumann-Morgentern was the main culprit, and that the next stage for
empirical decision theory would be to relax this axiom appropriately.
However, the decision theorists were also wrong to a very significant
extent, because they discarded the point that in a field like theirs, the
empirical refutations that matter are those which the agents are prepared
to endorse reflectingly, i.e., those which they endow with some normative
value. As I reconstruct him, Allais had already seen that brute choice
experiments were of limited interest even to empirical decision theory, and
that they should give way to more complex schemes, in which the subjects
could express their own rationality concerns and confront them with those
of the experimenter. I will try to make these schemes a little more precise
than I found them in Allais, and eventually suggest that they offer an
interesting alternative to the current orthodox ones in empirical decision
The paper is in progress, but it will borrow some its contents from
Duhemian Themes in Expected Utility Theory, in French Studies in the
Philosophy of Science, A. Brenner and J. Gayon eds, Springer, 2009, p.
When: Wed 20 Mar 2013 15:30 – 17:30 Eastern Time - Melbourne, Sydney
Where: S401, Level 4, via Lobby B (or Southern Vestibule), Quadrangle
Building, University Place, The University of Sydney.
* samuel.thomas.baron at gmail.com- creator
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