, Volume 128, Issue 1, pp 7-48

Rationality and Value: The Epistemological Role of Indeterminate and Agent-dependent Values

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Abstract

An important trend in contemporary epistemology centers on elaborating an old idea of pragmatist pedigree: theory selection (and in general the process of changing view and fixing beliefs) presupposes epistemic values. This article focuses on analyzing the case where epistemic values are indeterminate or when the sources of valuation are multiple (epistemic values like coherence and simplicity need not order options in compatible ways). According to the theory that thus arises epistemic alternatives need not be fully ordered by an underlying notion of information-value and therefore the usual economic techniques of optimization cannot be applied in order to compute optimal contractions. But in cases of this sort it is still rational to maximize, i.e. to deem an option as choosable when it is not known to be worse that any other. We present here basic results about a notion of liberal contraction based on maximizing quasi-orderings. This requires the previous solution of some open problems in the theory of rational choice functions, namely a full characterization of choice functions rationalizable in terms of maximization of quasi-transitive relations. We conclude by discussing the problem of what is the adequate feasible set for calculating maximizing solutions for contraction problems and by considering the epistemological roots of some counterexamples against the most fundamental axioms on choice functions (like α). While the first part of the paper shows how economic insights can be used to improve our understanding of the principles of belief formation and change, this final section reverses this strategy by showing the utility of epistemological insights and techniques for providing invariance conditions capable of regulating the applicability of the pure principles of choice.