Intuitions in decision theory: Empirical evidence

Talk given at the Melbourne-Glasgow Formal Philosophy Workshop

Work co-authored with Adam Bales (Cambridge) and Josh May (UA–Birmingham)

Abstract: The rivalry between causal decision theory and evidential decision theory is one of the central debates in the field. At least superficially, the discussion has involved heavy reliance on thought experiments and the intuitions generated by those thought experiments. In this talk I present some recent empirical work that attempts to assess whether folk intuitions about these cases are liable to be affected by a number of possible confounds present in the original thought experiments. In particular, we examine the so-called Psychopath Button – a case which involves the option to commit murder – and find evidence that the moral valence of the decision involved has a substantial effect on folk intuitions. We also describe a second experiment (data collection still underway) in which we test for effects of extreme stakes, extreme probabilities, and causal structure on intuitions in Newcomb's puzzle and related cases.

Slides (PDF 5.8MB)

The Coevolution of Sacred Values and Religion

Poster presented at the Future Directions On The Evolution of Rituals, Beliefs and Religious Minds Conference, Ettore Majorana Centre, Sicily.

Abstract: Sacred values – meaning values that people resist trading-off against money or other "secular" values – appear to be a human universal. Arguably they are more universal than religion itself, in that even secular atheists may hold certain values (such as loyalty to a loved one, a food taboo, or even football team devotion) to be "sacred". The role of sacred values in the evolutionary history of religion is not clearly established – are they a pre-cursor to religion, a by-product, or something else? In this poster I review a number of evolutionary models that might explain sacred values as: a signalling device, a bargaining strategy, or a coordination point, as well as shed light on the relation between the evolution of sacred valuing and religion. We then outline a design for an experiment, using techniques of experimental economics, that will test the plausibility of these models.

Poster (PDF 1.3MB)