Journal of Philosophical Logic

, Volume 46, Issue 5, pp 467–506 | Cite as

A Representation Theorem for Frequently Irrational Agents

  • Edward Elliott


The standard representation theorem for expected utility theory tells us that if a subject’s preferences conform to certain axioms, then she can be represented as maximising her expected utility given a particular set of credences and utilities—and, moreover, that having those credences and utilities is the only way that she could be maximising her expected utility (given her preferences). However, the kinds of agents these theorems seem apt to tell us anything about are highly idealised, being (amongst other things) always probabilistically coherent with infinitely precise degrees of belief and full knowledge of all a priori truths. Ordinary subjects do not look very rational when compared to the kinds of agents usually talked about in decision theory. In this paper, I will develop an expected utility representation theorem aimed at the representation of those who are neither probabilistically coherent, logically omniscient, nor expected utility maximisers across the board—that is, agents who are frequently irrational. The agents in question may be deductively fallible, have incoherent credences, limited representational capacities, and fail to maximise expected utility for all but a limited class of gambles.


Representation theorem Preferences Credences Utilities Irrational 



I would like to thank an anonymous referee for this journal for detailed and helpful comments. I am grateful to Ben Blumson, Rachael Briggs, David Chalmers, Daniel Elstein, Jessica Isserow, Al Hájek, James Joyce, and Robbie Williams, for helpful comments and discussion on the paper and its immediate predecessors. Thanks also to audiences at the ANU, the University of Leeds, the National University of Singapore, and the LSE. The research leading to these results has received funding from the European Research Council under the European Union’s Seventh Framework Programme (FP/2007-2013) / ERC Grant Agreement n. 312938.


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© Springer Science+Business Media Dordrecht 2016

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.School of Philosophy, Religion and History of ScienceUniversity of LeedsLeedsUK

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