The problems of transformative experience

  • Yoaav IsaacsEmail author


Laurie Paul has recently argued that transformative experiences pose a problem for decision theory. According to Paul, agents facing transformative experiences do not possess the states required for decision theory to formulate its prescriptions. Agents facing transformative experiences are impoverished relative to their decision problems, and decision theory doesn’t know what to do with impoverished agents. Richard Pettigrew takes Paul’s challenge seriously. He grants that decision theory (in its traditional state) cannot handle decision problems involving transformative experiences. To deal with the problems posed by transformative experiences, Pettigrew proposes two alterations to decision theory. The first alteration is meant to handle the problem posed by epistemically transformative experiences, and the second alteration is meant to handle the problem posed by personally transformative experiences. I argue that Pettigrew’s proposed alterations are untenable. Pettigrew’s novel decision theory faces both formal and philosophical problems. It is doubtful that Pettigrew can formulate the sort of decision theory he wants, and further doubtful that he should want such a decision theory in the first place. Moreover, the issues with Pettigrew’s proposed alterations help reveal issues with Paul’s initial challenge to decision theory. I suggest that transformative experiences should not be taken to pose a problem for decision theory, but should instead be taken to pose a topic for ethics.


Probability Utility Decision theory Transformative 



For helpful comments, I thank John Hawthorne, Alan Hájek, and Laurie Paul.


  1. Arrow, K. (1963). Social choice and individual values. New York, NY: Wiley.Google Scholar
  2. Aumann, R. (1976). Agreeing to disagree. The Annals of Statistics, 4(6), 1236–1239.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  3. Bricker, P. (1980). Prudence. Journal of Philosophy, 77(7), 381–401.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  4. Briggs, R. (2015). Transformative experience and interpersonal utility comparisons. Res Philosophica, 92(2), 189–216.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  5. Bykvist, K. (2010). Can unstable preferences provide a stable standard of well-being? Economics and Philosophy, 26(1), 1–26.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  6. Davidson, D. (1987). Knowing one’s own mind. Proceedings and Addresses of the American Philosophical Association, 60(3), 441–458.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  7. Elster, J. (1979). Ulysses and the sirens. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.Google Scholar
  8. Gibbard, A. (1992). Interpersonal comparisons: Preference, good, and the intrinsic reward of a life. In J. Elster & A. Hylland (Eds.), Foundations of social choice theory. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.Google Scholar
  9. Harsanyi, J. C. (1955). Cardinal welfare, individualistic ethics, and interpersonal comparisons of utility. Journal of Political Economy, 63(4), 309–321.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  10. Parfit, D. (1984). Reasons and persons. Oxford: Oxford University Press.Google Scholar
  11. Paul, L. (2014). Transformative experience. Oxford: Oxford University Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  12. Paul, L. (2015). Transformative choice: Discussion and replies. Res Philosophica, 92(2), 473–545.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  13. Paul, L. (2015). What you can’t expect when you’re expecting. Res Philosophica, 92(2), 1–23.Google Scholar
  14. Pettigrew, R. (Forthcoming). Transformative experience and the knowledge norms for action: Moss on Paul’s challenge to decision theory. In Lambert, E., & Schwenkler, J. (eds.), Becoming someone new: Essays on transformative experience, choice, and change, Oxford University Press.Google Scholar
  15. Pettigrew, R. (2015). Transformative experience and decision theory. Philosophy and Phenomenal Research, 91(3), 766–774.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  16. Pettigrew, R. (2016). Review of Transformative Experience, by L.A. Paul. Mind, 125(499), 927–935.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  17. Williamson, T. (2000). Knowledge and its limits. Oxford: Oxford University Press.Google Scholar
  18. Williamson, T. (2008). Why epistemology cannot be operationalized. In Smith, Q. (Ed.), Epistemology: New essays (pp. 277–300). Oxford: Oxford University Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer Nature B.V. 2019

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.University of Southern CaliforniaLos AngelesUSA

Personalised recommendations