Friday, 26 October 2018

Dutch Books and Reflection

I've just signed a contract with Cambridge University Press to write a book on the Dutch Book Argument for their Elements in Decision Theory and Philosophy series. So over the next few months, I'm going to be posting some bits and pieces as I get properly immersed in the literature.

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In yesterday's post, I walked through the Dutch Strategy argument for Conditionalization. Today, I'd like to think about a standard objection to it. As van Fraassen (1984) pointed out, we can give a seemingly analogous Dutch Strategy argument for his Reflection Principle, which says:

Reflection Principle  If $c(C_{c_i}) > 0$, then $c(X | C_{c_i}) = c_i(X)$.

We'll consider the details of the argument below. Now, van Fraassen took this argument to count in favour of his Reflection Principle. Indeed, since the Reflection Principle looks implausible on all accounts of credence except van Fraassen's voluntarism, he appealed to this Dutch Strategy Argument for the Reflection Principle in an argument for voluntarism. But most philosophers have seen a modus tollens where van Fraassen saw a modus ponens. After all, the Reflection Principle demands a level of deference to your future credences that is sometimes simply not rationally permitted, let alone required. For instance, if Sandy knows that between Monday and Tuesday, he will take a drug that makes him enormously and irrationally under-confident in extreme climate scenarios and over-confident in more moderate scenarios, his confidence in Medium on Monday conditional on being 90% confident in Medium on Tuesday, for instance, should not be 90%---it should be less than that (Christensen 1991). Thus, from the denial of the Reflection Principle, many infer that the Dutch Strategy arguments in its favour is invalid, and from that they infer that all such arguments are invalid, and thus they cast doubt on the particular Dutch Strategy argument for conditionalizing.

R. A. Briggs responds to this objection to the Dutch Strategy argument for conditionalizing by arguing that, contrary to appearances, there is a disanalogy between the two Dutch Strategy arguments. This allows us to reject the argument for the Reflection Principle as invalid, while retaining the argument for conditionalizing as valid. To see Briggs' point, let's place the two arguments side by side. First, the Dutch Strategy Argument for Rule Conditionalization. Suppose my credence function at $t$ is $c$, suppose $c(E) > 0$, and suppose that, if I learn $E$ and nothing more between $t$ and $t'$, I will adopt $c'$ at $t'$, where $c'(X) \neq c(X | E)$, for some $X$. Then there are sets of bets $B$, $B'_E$, and $B'_{\overline{E}}$ such that $c$ requires me to accept $B$, $c'$ requires me to accept $B'_E$, and any credence function requires me to accept $B'_{\overline{E}}$, where, taken together, $B$ and $B'_E$ will lose me money in all worlds at which $E$ is true and, taken together, $B$ and $B'_{\overline{E}}$ will lose me money in all worlds at which $E$ is false. Second, the Dutch Strategy Argument for Reflection. Suppose $c(C_{c_i}) > 0$ and suppose that $c(X | C_{c_i}) \neq c_i(X)$, for some $X$. Then there are bets $B$, $B'_{C_{c_i}}$, and $B'_{\overline{C_{c_i}}}$ such that $c$ requires me to accept $B$, $c_i$ requires me to accept $B'_{C_{c_i}}$, and any credence function requires me to accept $B'_{\overline{C_{c_i}}}$, where, taken together, the bets in $B$ and $B_{C_{c_i}}$ will lose me money in all worlds at which my credence function at $t'$ is indeed $c_i$, and, taken together, $B$ and $B'_{\overline{E}}$ will lose me money in all worlds at which $c_i$ is not my credence function at $t'$. So, as Briggs points out, if you will update other than conditionalizing if you learn $E$, then whatever evidence comes your way---whether $E$ or something else---the strategy described will generate bets that, taken together, will lose you money at all worlds at which your evidence is true. That is, they will lose you money at all epistemically possible worlds, which is what is required to establish irrationality. But, if you violate Reflection, then whatever credence function you adopt at $t'$---whether $c_i$ or something else---the strategy described will generate bets that, taken together, will lose you money at all worlds at which you adopt that credence function. However, that is not necessarily all epistemically possible worlds. For you might not know what your credences are at $t'$. In that case, even if I actually adopt $c_i$ at $t'$, there will nonetheless be an epistemically possible world at which I didn't adopt that, and then the bets in $B$ and $B'_{C_{c_i}}$, taken together, might not lose me money. And that blocks the Dutch Strategy argument for Reflection.

However, while Briggs successfully blocks the argument for Reflection in its strong, general form, Anna Mahtani (2012) points out that they do not block a Dutch Strategy argument for a weak, more specific version of Reflection:

Weak Reflection Principle If at $t'$ you will know what your credence function is, then if $c(C_{c_i}) > 0$, then $c(X | C_{c_i}) = c_i(X)$.

After all, if you satisfy the antecedent of the principle, then it cannot be that, after you adopt credence function $c_i$, it is still epistemically possible that you have some different credence function.

Now, the Weak Reflection Principle is hardly more plausible than the stronger version. That is, it is still very implausible. Knowing that his credences will be completely luminous to him after I take the mind-altering drug should not make Sandy any more inclined to defer to the credences he will end up having after taking it. Thus, the objection to the Dutch Strategy argument for Conditionalization remains intact.

How, then, should we respond to this objection? The first thing to note is that, in a sense, the Dutch Strategy argument for Reflection does not actually target Reflection. Or, at least, it doesn't target it directly. One way to see this is to note that, unlike the versions of conditionalization we have been considering, Reflection is a synchronic norm. It says something about how your credences should be at $t$. It says nothing about how your credences at $t$ should relate to your credences at $t'$, only how your credences at $t$ about your credences at $t'$ should relate to your other credences at $t$. But the Dutch Strategy argument involves bets that your credences at $t$ require you to accept, as well as bets that your credences at $t'$ require you to accept. You can violate Reflection, and have probabilistic credences---so the Converse Dutch Book Theorem shows that there is no synchronic Dutch Book argument against your credences; that is, there is no set of bets that $c$ alone requires you to accept that will lose you money at all epistemically possible worlds.

So what's going on? The key fact is this: if you violate Reflection, and you have a deterministic updating rule, then that updating rule cannot possibly be a conditionalizing rule. After all, suppose $c(C_{c_i}) > 0$ and $c(X | C_{C_{c_i}}) \neq c_i(X)$ and you learn $C_{c_i}$ and nothing more. Then, since you learn $C_{c_i}$, it must be true and thus your new credence function must be $c_i$. But your violation of Reflection ensures that $c_i$ is not the result of conditionalizing on your evidence $C_{c_i}$. So the Dutch Strategy argument for Reflection does not target Reflection itself; rather, it targets the updating rule you are forced to adopt because you violate Reflection.

Consider an analogous case---Briggs also considers this analogy, but draws a different moral from it. Suppose you think that it is irrational to have a set of beliefs that can't possibly all be true. Now, suppose you have the following second-order belief: you believe that you believe a contradiction, such as $X\ \&\ \overline{X}$. Then that belief itself might be true. So, by your standards, on its own, it is not irrational. However, suppose we now consider what your attitude to $X\ \&\ \overline{X}$ is. Whatever attitude you have, you are guaranteed to have a false belief: if you do believe the contradiction, your second-order belief is true, but your first-order belief is false; if you don't believe the contradiction, then your second-order belief itself is false. In this case, we might say that the belief itself is not irrational---it might be true, and it might be supported by your evidence. But its presence forces your total doxastic state to be irrational.

The same thing is going on in the case of Reflection. Just as you think that it is irrational to have beliefs that cannot all be true, you also think it is irrational to have credences that require you to enter into bets that lose you money for sure. And just as the single second-order belief that you believe a contradiction is possibly true, so by the Converse Dutch Book Theorem, a credence function that violates Reflection doesn't require you to accept any bets that will lose you money for sure. However, just as the single belief that you believe a contradiction forces you to have an attitude to the contradiction (either believing it or not) that ensures that your total doxastic state (first- and second-order beliefs together) includes a false belief, so your violation of Reflection forces you to adopt an updating rule that is vulnerable to a Dutch Strategy. For this reason, we can allow that you are irrational if you are vulnerable to a Dutch Strategy without rendering violations of Reflection irrational, just as we can allow that you are irrational if you have beliefs that are guaranteed to include some falsehoods without rendering the second-order belief that you believe a contradiction irrational. Both force you to adopt some other sort of doxastic state---a first-order belief or an updating rule---that is irrational. But they are not themselves irrational. This saves the Dutch Strategy argument for Conditionalization.

References

  • Briggs, R. A. (2009). Distorted Reflection. Philosophical Review, 118(1), 59–85.
  • Christensen, D. (1991). Clever Bookies and Coherent Beliefs. Philosophical Review, 100(2), 229–247.
  • Mahtani, A. (2012). Diachronic Dutch Book Arguments. Philosophical Review, 121(3), 443–450.

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