The Dr. Psycho Paradox and Newcomb’s Problem


Nicholas Rescher claims that rational decision theory “may leave us in the lurch”, because there are two apparently acceptable ways of applying “the standard machinery of expected-value analysis” to his Dr. Psycho paradox which recommend contradictory actions. He detects a similar contradiction in Newcomb’s problem. We consider his claims from the point of view of both Bayesian decision theory and causal decision theory. In Dr. Psycho and in Newcomb’s Problem, Rescher has used premisses about probabilities which he assumes to be independent. From the former point of view, we show that the probability premisses are not independent but inconsistent, and their inconsistency is provable within probability theory alone. From the latter point of view, we show that their consistency can be saved, but then the contradictory recommendations evaporate. Consequently, whether one subscribes to evidential or causal decision theory, rational decision theory is not in any way vitiated by Rescher’s arguments.

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Correspondence to Michael Clark.

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Manuscript submitted 1 February 2004 Final version received 17 May 2005

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Clark, M., Shackel, N. The Dr. Psycho Paradox and Newcomb’s Problem. Erkenntnis 64, 85–100 (2006).

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  • Probability Theory
  • Decision Theory
  • Rational Decision
  • Causal Decision
  • Bayesian Decision