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Demons, Deceivers And Liars: Newcomb’s Malin Génie

Abstract

A fully adequate solution to Newcomb’s Problem (Nozick 1969) should reveal the source of its extraordinary elusiveness and persistent intractability. Recently, a few accounts have independently sought to meet this criterion of adequacy by exposing the underlying source of the problem’s profound puzzlement. Thus, Sorensen (1987), Slezak (1998), Priest (2002) and Maitzen and Wilson (2003) share the ‘no box’ view according to which the very idea that there is a right choice is misconceived since the problem is ill-formed or incoherent in some way. Among proponents of this view, Richard Jeffrey (2004) recently declared that he renounces his earlier position that accepted Newcomb problems as genuine decision problems. Significantly, Jeffrey suggests that “Newcomb problems are like Escher’s famous staircase on which an unbroken ascent takes you back where you started” (Jeffrey (2004; 113)). Jeffrey’s analogy is apt for a puzzle whose specific logical features can be precisely articulated. Along the lines of these related approaches, I propose to improve and clarify them by providing such a deeper analysis that elucidates their essential, related insights.

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Correspondence to Peter Slezak.

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Slezak, P. Demons, Deceivers And Liars: Newcomb’s Malin Génie . Theor Decis 61, 277–303 (2006). https://doi.org/10.1007/s11238-006-9002-6

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Keywords

  • Descartes’s demon
  • decision theory
  • Newcomb’s problem
  • paradoxes of self-reference