•  5319
    Can it be Rational to have Faith?
    In Jake Chandler & Victoria Harrison (eds.), Probability in the Philosophy of Religion, Oxford University Press. pp. 225. 2012.
    This paper provides an account of what it is to have faith in a proposition p, in both religious and mundane contexts. It is argued that faith in p doesn’t require adopting a degree of belief that isn’t supported by one’s evidence but rather it requires terminating one’s search for further evidence and acting on the supposition that p. It is then shown, by responding to a formal result due to I.J. Good, that doing so can be rational in a number of circumstances. If expected utility theory is the…Read more
  •  2161
    Belief, credence, and norms
    Philosophical Studies 169 (2): 1-27. 2014.
    There are currently two robust traditions in philosophy dealing with doxastic attitudes: the tradition that is concerned primarily with all-or-nothing belief, and the tradition that is concerned primarily with degree of belief or credence. This paper concerns the relationship between belief and credence for a rational agent, and is directed at those who may have hoped that the notion of belief can either be reduced to credence or eliminated altogether when characterizing the norms governing idea…Read more
  •  1328
    Decision Theory
    In Christopher Hitchcock & Alan Hajek (eds.), Oxford Handbook of Probability and Philosophy, Oxford University Press. 2016.
    Decision theory has at its core a set of mathematical theorems that connect rational preferences to functions with certain structural properties. The components of these theorems, as well as their bearing on questions surrounding rationality, can be interpreted in a variety of ways. Philosophy’s current interest in decision theory represents a convergence of two very different lines of thought, one concerned with the question of how one ought to act, and the other concerned with the question of …Read more
  •  1004
    Reason and Faith
    In William J. Abraham & Frederick D. Aquino (eds.), The Oxford Handbook of the Epistemology of Theology, Oxford University Press. forthcoming.
    Faith is a central attitude in Christian religious practice. The problem of faith and reason is the problem of reconciling religious faith with the standards for our belief-forming practices in general (‘ordinary epistemic standards’). In order to see whether and when faith can be reconciled with ordinary epistemic standards, we first need to know what faith is. This chapter examines and catalogues views of propositional faith: faith that p. It is concerned with the epistemology of such fait…Read more
  •  928
    Rational Faith and Justified Belief
    In Timothy O'Connor & Laura Frances Callahan (eds.), Religious Faith and Intellectual Virtue, Oxford University Press. pp. 49-73. 2014.
    In “Can it be rational to have faith?”, it was argued that to have faith in some proposition consists, roughly speaking, in stopping one’s search for evidence and committing to act on that proposition without further evidence. That paper also outlined when and why stopping the search for evidence and acting is rationally required. Because the framework of that paper was that of formal decision theory, it primarily considered the relationship between faith and degrees of belief, rather than betwe…Read more
  •  704
    Taking Risks Behind the Veil of Ignorance
    Ethics 127 (3): 610-644. 2017.
    A natural view in distributive ethics is that everyone's interests matter, but the interests of the relatively worse off matter more than the interests of the relatively better off. I provide a new argument for this view. The argument takes as its starting point the proposal, due to Harsanyi and Rawls, that facts about distributive ethics are discerned from individual preferences in the "original position." I draw on recent work in decision theory, along with an intuitive principle about risk…Read more
  •  613
    Free Acts and Chance: Why The Rollback Argument Fails
    Philosophical Quarterly 63 (250): 20-28. 2013.
    The ‘rollback argument,’ pioneered by Peter van Inwagen, purports to show that indeterminism in any form is incompatible with free will. The argument has two major premises: the first claims that certain facts about chances obtain in a certain kind of hypothetical situation, and the second that these facts entail that some actual act is not free. Since the publication of the rollback argument, the second claim has been vehemently debated, but everyone seems to have taken the first claim for gran…Read more
  •  512
    Instrumental rationality, epistemic rationality, and evidence-gathering
    Philosophical Perspectives 24 (1): 85-120. 2010.
    This paper addresses the question of whether gathering additional evidence is always rationally required, both from the point of view of instrumental rationality and of epistemic rationality. It is shown that in certain situations, it is not instrumentally rational to look for more evidence before making a decision. These are situations in which the risk of “misleading” evidence – a concept that has both instrumental and epistemic senses – is not offset by the gains from the possibility of non…Read more
  •  490
    Revisiting Risk and Rationality: a reply to Pettigrew and Briggs
    Canadian Journal of Philosophy 45 (5): 841-862. 2015.
    I have claimed that risk-weighted expected utility maximizers are rational, and that their preferences cannot be captured by expected utility theory. Richard Pettigrew and Rachael Briggs have recently challenged these claims. Both authors argue that only EU-maximizers are rational. In addition, Pettigrew argues that the preferences of REU-maximizers can indeed be captured by EU theory, and Briggs argues that REU-maximizers lose a valuable tool for simplifying their decision problems. I hold that…Read more
  •  460
    Risk and Tradeoffs
    Erkenntnis 79 (S6): 1091-1117. 2014.
    The orthodox theory of instrumental rationality, expected utility (EU) theory, severely restricts the way in which risk-considerations can figure into a rational individual's preferences. It is argued here that this is because EU theory neglects an important component of instrumental rationality. This paper presents a more general theory of decision-making, risk-weighted expected utility (REU) theory, of which expected utility maximization is a special case. According to REU theory, the weigh…Read more
  •  455
    Groupthink
    Philosophical Studies 172 (5): 1287-1309. 2015.
    How should a group with different opinions (but the same values) make decisions? In a Bayesian setting, the natural question is how to aggregate credences: how to use a single credence function to naturally represent a collection of different credence functions. An extension of the standard Dutch-book arguments that apply to individual decision-makers recommends that group credences should be updated by conditionalization. This imposes a constraint on what aggregation rules can be like. Taking c…Read more
  •  444
    Learning not to be Naïve: A comment on the exchange between Perrine/Wykstra and Draper
    In Trent Dougherty & Justin McBrayer (eds.), Skeptical Theism: New Essays, Oxford University Press. 2014.
    Does postulating skeptical theism undermine the claim that evil strongly confirms atheism over theism? According to Perrine and Wykstra, it does undermine the claim, because evil is no more likely on atheism than on skeptical theism. According to Draper, it does not undermine the claim, because evil is much more likely on atheism than on theism in general. I show that the probability facts alone do not resolve their disagreement, which ultimately rests on which updating procedure – conditiona…Read more
  •  369
    Evolutionary applications of game theory present one of the most pedagogically accessible varieties of genuine, contemporary theoretical biology. We present here Oyun (OY-oon, http://charlespence.net/oyun), a program designed to run iterated prisoner’s dilemma tournaments, competitions between prisoner’s dilemma strategies developed by the students themselves. Using this software, students are able to readily design and tweak their own strategies, and to see how they fare both in round-robin tou…Read more
  •  284
    Some early phase clinical studies of candidate HIV cure and remission interventions appear to have adverse medical risk–benefit ratios for participants. Why, then, do people participate? And is it ethically permissible to allow them to participate? Recent work in decision theory sheds light on both of these questions, by casting doubt on the idea that rational individuals prefer choices that maximise expected utility, and therefore by casting doubt on the idea that researchers have an ethical ob…Read more
  •  142
    Reasonable faith * by John Haldane
    Analysis 72 (2): 413-415. 2012.
    Review of John Haldane's "Reasonable Faith"
  •  136
    Risk and Rationality
    Oxford University Press. 2013.
    Lara Buchak sets out a new account of rational decision-making in the face of risk. She argues that the orthodox view is too narrow, and suggests an alternative, more permissive theory: one that allows individuals to pay attention to the worst-case or best-case scenario, and vindicates the ordinary decision-maker.
  •  129
    Dutch Book Arguments. B is susceptibility to sure monetary loss (in a certain betting set-up), and F is the formal role played by non-Pr b’s in the DBT and the Converse DBT. Representation Theorem Arguments. B is having preferences that violate some of Savage’s axioms (and/or being unrepresentable as an expected utility maximizer), and F is the formal role played by non-Pr b’s in the RT.
  •  120
    - In decision theory, an agent is deciding how to value a gamble that results in different outcomes in different states. Each outcome gets a utility value for the agent.
  •  111
    Robert Audi: Rationality and religious commitment: Oxford University Press, Oxford, 2011, xvi and 311 pp., $45.00 (review)
    International Journal for Philosophy of Religion 72 (2): 139-144. 2012.
    Review of Robert Audi's "Rationality and Religious Commitment"
  •  107
    Faith and steadfastness in the face of counter-evidence
    International Journal for Philosophy of Religion 81 (1-2): 113-133. 2017.
    It is sometimes said that faith is recalcitrant in the face of new evidence, but it is puzzling how such recalcitrance could be rational or laudable. I explain this aspect of faith and why faith is not only rational, but in addition serves an important purpose in human life. Because faith requires maintaining a commitment to act on the claim one has faith in, even in the face of counter-evidence, faith allows us to carry out long-term, risky projects that we might otherwise abandon. Thus, faith …Read more
  •  78
  •  75
    Review of José Luis Bermúdez, Decision Theory and Rationality (review)
    Notre Dame Philosophical Reviews 2009 (9). 2009.
  •  63
    Mind &Language, Volume 35, Issue 1, Page 3-28, February 2020.
  •  60
    Precis of Risk and Rationality
    Philosophical Studies 174 (9): 2363-2368. 2017.
    My book Risk and Rationality argues for a new alternative to the orthodox theory of rational decision-making. This alternative, risk-weighted expected utility maximization, holds that there are three important components involved in rational decision-making: utilities, probabilities, and risk-attitudes. This essay explains the basic outline of the theory and precisely how it differs from the orthodox theory. It also summarizes the main threads of argument in the book.
  •  47
    Replies to Commentators
    Philosophical Studies 174 (9): 2397-2414. 2017.
    I reply to two commentaries—one by Johanna Thoma and Jonathan Weisberg and one by James M. Joyce—concerning how risk-weighted expected utility theory handles the Allais preferences and Dutch books.
  •  45
    Within philosophy of action, there are three broad views about what, in addition to beliefs, answer the question of “what to do?” and so determine an agent’s motivation: desires, judgments about values/reasons, or states of the will, such as intentions. We argue that recent work in decision theory vindicates the volitionalist. “What to do?” isn’t settled by “what do I value” or “what reasons are there?” Rational motivation further requires determining how to trade off the possibility of a good o…Read more
  •  41
    Weighing the Risks of Climate Change
    The Monist 102 (1): 66-83. 2019.
    This essay argues that when setting climate policy, we should place more weight on worse possible consequences of a policy, while still placing some weight on better possible consequences. The argument proceeds by elucidating the range of attitudes people can take towards risk, how we must make choices for people when we don’t know their risk-attitudes, and the situation we are in with respect to climate policy and the consequences for future people. The result is an alternative to the Precautio…Read more
  • Oxford Studies in Philosophy of Religion Volume 9 (edited book)
    Oxford University Press. 2019.
    Oxford Studies in Philosophy of Religion is an annual volume offering a regular snapshot of state-of-the-art work in this longstanding area of philosophy that has seen an explosive growth of interest over the past half century.
  • To counter the pandemic caused by severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2, some have proposed accelerating SARS-CoV-2 vaccine development through controlled human infection trials. These trials would involve the deliberate exposure of relatively few young, healthy volunteers to SARS-CoV-2. We defend this proposal against the charge that there is still too much uncertainty surrounding the risks of COVID-19 to responsibly run such a trial.