, Volume 18, Issue 30-31, pp 217-225

Two envelope problems and the roles of ignorance

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Abstract

Four variations on Two Envelope Paradox are stated and compared. The variations are employed to provide a diagnosis and an explanation of what has gone awry in the paradoxical modeling of the decision problem that the paradox poses. The canonical formulation of the paradox underdescribes the ways in which one envelope can have twice the amount that is in the other. Some ways one envelope can have twice the amount that is in the other make it rational to prefer the envelope that was originally rejected. Some do not, and it is a mistake to treat them alike. The nature of the mistake is diagnosed by the different roles that rigid designators and definite descriptions play in unproblematic and in untoward formulations of decision tables that are employed in setting out the decision problem that gives rise to the paradox. The decision maker’s knowledge or ignorance of how one envelope came to have twice the amount that is in the other determines which of the different ways of modeling his decision problem is correct. Under this diagnosis, the paradoxical modeling of the Two Envelope problem is incoherent.