University
of Alberta

Faculty
of Arts

Department of Philosophy

Phil 325: Risk, choice and rationality
— Winter term (2018)

*Decision theory* addresses an issue — namely, making decisions
— that everybody faces multiple times a day. Sometimes decisions
are made by a collection of people such as a parliament or a congress.
In thinking about decisions, the (expected) results of the decisions have to
be considered, and perhaps, evaluated and compared. Modern decision
theory, which uses some mathematical tools to analyze decision problems and
to underpin choices, emerged in the 20th century.

Some of the basic concepts in decision theory are states, actions and outcomes. A way to compare outcomes is to impose a preference order on potential outcomes. Some actions may lead to a certain outcome in a very direct fashion (with negligible uncertainty about the connection between the action and its outcome), whereas other actions are more or less likely to yield a particular result. In the latter case, we might be able to assign probabilities to various outcomes and to compute expected values and expected utilities for the various actions.

A concept that plays an important role in decision problems is
*information*. The availability or the absence of information
pertains to *epistemic* aspects of a situation and can fundamentally
alter which choice is optimal. Another complication in some situations
is that there are several agents, whose preferences have to be considered or
whose actions have explicit or hidden dependencies.

The course will incorporate elements of *utility theory*,
*probability theory* and *game theory* to sharpen the
formulations and the solutions of a range of decision problems.
The course will not only enhance your knowledge about decision theory, but it
will allow you to make better decisions — if you heed the
recommendations of the theory. (There is no official prerequisite
for this course. The mathematical concepts and tools used in this
course are “not-all-that-complicated” and elementary.)

**Time:**
M, W, F 11:00 am – 11:50 am

For **further information**, please contact the instructor at
.

The (official) **course outline** is available in the e-classroom during
the course.

[Last updated on March 3rd, 2017.]