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Gandalf’s solution to the Newcomb problem

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This article proposes a new theory of rational decision, distinct from both causal decision theory (CDT) and evidential decision theory (EDT). First, some intuitive counterexamples to CDT and EDT are presented. Then the motivation for the new theory is given: the correct theory of rational decision will resemble CDT in that it will not be sensitive to any comparisons of absolute levels of value across different states of nature, but only to comparisons of the differences in value between the available options within states of nature; however, the correct theory will also resemble EDT in that it will rely on conditional probabilities (not unconditional probabilities). The new theory gives a prominent role to the notion of a “benchmark” for each state of nature, by comparison with which the value of the available options in that state of nature are measured, and so it has been called the Benchmark Theory (BT). It is argued that BT gives the right verdict on the cases that seem to be counterexamples to CDT and EDT. Finally, some objections to BT are considered and answered.

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Correspondence to Ralph Wedgwood.

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Wedgwood, R. Gandalf’s solution to the Newcomb problem. Synthese 190, 2643–2675 (2013).

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