Decision Theory Textbooks

I’m teaching a decision theory course in the Fall, and I’m trying to figure out what, if any, textbook to use. There are a couple of older books by Michael Resnik and Richard Jeffrey, but does anyone know if there’s anything more up-to-date?

There are many game theory textbooks, though these are often written for a more mathematically oriented audience. Of course, most of those books include many claims that are vulnerable to Stalnaker’s critiques of various game-theoretic techniques, so I’d have to be a little careful teaching from them. But I’m not sure what there is, if anything, in decision theory that’s particularly up-to-date. Any suggestions would be much appreciated!

4 Replies to “Decision Theory Textbooks”

  1. This is indeed a real gap in the contemporary literature, Brian. I like using bits and pieces of Maher’s “Betting on Theories”, Eells’s “Rational Decision and Causality”, Joyce’s “Foundations of Causal Decision Theory”, and Weirich’s “Equilibrium and Rationality: Game Theory Revised by Decision Rules”.

  2. Chapter 13 of Luce and Raiffa’s “Games and Decisions” is still a nice survey of decision making under uncertainty. I’ve also used parts of “Notes on the Theory of Choice” by David Kreps and parts of “Lecture Notes in Microeconomic Theory: The Economic Agent” by Ariel Rubinstein. The books by Kreps and Rubinstein are a bit technical, the former more so than the latter, but I still think that they are worth a look. I agree with Branden that there is a gap in the literature.

  3. I tried three times to teach a decision theory course, and I never did find a way of doing it that I was happy with. It was supposed to be a course that presupposed no background in philosophy. One problem I had was that there was nothing I could do to ensure that the students who registered could all add fractions and follow a little bit of algebra. I used the Resnik, which is very good in presenting the technical stuff in a clear way (for those who can add fractions and follow a little bit of algebra). But it does not do much to make the subject relevant or interesting to students. Von Neumann-Morgenstern decision theory does not give one a way of making decisions (since it does not address the hard problems about how to rank the lotteries based on one’s values). I don’t see any way at all to teach the subject as a useful skills course. (Yes, one can teach students to calculate expected monetary value.) So what one can try to do is teach it as a course in philosophical problems. I once tried to do that by pairing Resnik with Frederick Schick’s (Rutgers emeritus, I think) “Making Choices”, but, for some reason I wasn’t happy with that either. If I tried it again, I would interlace chapters of Resnik with philosophical articles. (You can think of some as well as I. Your colleague Ruth Chang might have some suggestions too.)

  4. There is indeed a gap in the current literature. Aside from some of the books that were mentioned above (especially the ones mentioned by Jeff) there is an anthology that I find useful:

    Decision, Probability and Utility: Selected Readings, by Peter Gärdenfors and Nils-Eric Sahlin

    It covers a fair amount of ground although it is a bit old now (1988). It has to be complemented with more recent papers but it provides a philosophically oriented introduction to various foundational and substantive issues, from causal decision theory to imprecise probabilities to the status of questionable rules of rationality (like ordering or independence).

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