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M O D E L
MODEL OF NEUTRAL-INCLUSIVITY
BOOK OF FUNDAMENTALS

4.3.2 

TRUTH AND NEUTRALITY IN EXPECTATIONS

People's behavior does not have to be goal-directed according to the norm of neutrality, but if it is goal-directed the goal aimed at should ultimately be a neutral one. It has quite commonly been pointed out that people's (or 'human') behavior is in actual fact 'mostly goal-directed'. This kind of behavior is then described as "rational", because it involves the choice of the best means available for attaining the goal in question. Correct tho this description may be, it does not follow that a person who does not choose the best means available, for example, because this violates someone else's right to personhood, would behave 'irrationally'. Or, if one wants to call such behavior "irrational", it does not follow that a person would always have to behave 'rationally'. Yet, since we are in the context of this division primarily interested in doctrinal considerations, we should not only choose neutral-inclusive objectives, but also behave rationally with respect to these objectives. On this teleological scheme the means-end concept of rational behavior is, indeed, a useful one.

When a decision maker can predict the outcome of an action, the situation is not problematic. A person who thus acts under certainty should choose the right goal (a neutral or nanapolar one) and make sure that 'er prediction is a true one, that is, corresponds with reality. But only under ideal circumstances can a person be entirely sure about the state of affairs 'er action will bring about. In actual fact a person (more) often (than not) acts under risk and under uncertainty. In the case of risk 'e knows at least the objective probabilities of the possible outcomes; in the case of uncertainty even these objective probabilities will not all be known to 'im. When objective probabilities are not known and not given, mere adherence to the principle of truth will not help. The decision maker is then forced to work with 'subjective' probabilities or expectations. (Subjective is used here in the sense of nonepistemic doxastic and expectation in the standard sense, not in the mathematical sense of product of the probability that an event will occur and the amount to be received if it does occur.) If a decision maker has a goal in mind, and if not all outcomes are known to 'im, 'e will have to make comparisons, also intra- and inter-personal ones. Even abstaining from every action presupposes that this would serve the goal in question at least as good as any positive action. There is nothing dramatic about this situation: everyone performs such mental operations all the time, altho definitely not always to serve a neutral or nanapolar end.

The function of the theory dealing with the problems and principles of decision-making, decision theory, is not to tell us what end we ought to choose. Its function is merely to formulate decision rules telling us what to do given a certain end. Hence, so far as these ends are concerned decision theory is neither neutralistic nor antineutralistic. Therefore it is even more remarkable that one of the classical principles of decision theory is a neutralist one, namely the principle of indifference, also labeled "the rule for choice under uncertainty" or "the principle of insufficient reason". On this principle one should assign equal probabilities to all possibilities in a situation of complete ignorance, if one has to employ probabilities at all. Altho the principle of indifference does not prescribe that a person must employ 'subjective' probabilities, the rational decision maker can usually not help acting as if 'e does use them. This, at least, is what one school of decision theory teaches. The theorists of this school propose expected-utility maximization as decision rule under uncertainty. Taken literally, the formulation of the end to be pursued in terms of 'maximum utility' is extremist and inconsistent with the neutralist character of the principle of indifference. On our terms, the decision rule concerned should be a rule of expected neutralization, but this reformulation has little or no impact on the mathematical enterprise itself. It only underscores that those who accept the principle of indifference in decision theory should also accept neutralization as an ultimate corrective value instead of maximization or, for that matter, minimization.

Even when restricting themselves to means-end rationality and even when accepting the same goal or goals, decision theorists may still disagree about what a rational decision maker is actually supposed to do. For the principle of indifference has its competitors too. And if this principle were wrong, it would not benefit neutrality in the end, if we tried to achieve a neutral or nanapolar goal by assigning equal probabilities to the possibilities in question (assuming that they are completely unknown to the decision maker). One alternative principle proposed is the maximin principle. According to this principle every action or policy must be evaluated in terms of the worst possibility which can occur by choosing this action or policy, and it is this worst possiblity which must then be maximized. It has been argued, however, that the maximin and similar principles often suggest entirely unacceptable decisions in practise and 'lead to highly irrational decisions in important cases'. On the maximin principle a person would always have to choose something unpleasant if choosing something pleasant could possibly lead to the worst outcome, however unlikely it might be that this ever happened. On a related principle in political philosophy (the so-called 'difference principle') society has to give absolute priority to the interests of the one worst-off individual, even tho an alternative policy would be beneficial to no matter how many people. (It should be noted that the system to which the principle is made to apply does not distinguish extrinsic and intrinsic rights and that therefore the worst-off individual in this system may not even have 'er extrinsic property at 'er disposal.) Where this principle does lead to reasonable decisions, it is 'essentially equivalent to the expected-utility maximization principle' --as has been said. When we now substitute neutralization for utility (maximization), we have come full circle; that is, we are then back in the original position in which it is ultimately only neutrality and neutralization which count.

Throughout nature and culture neutrality appears as symmetry. So also in the probabilities of decision theory. There it is called "symmetry in probability". In effect, symmetry considerations require here that one attach exactly equal mathematical probabilities to each of all possible outcomes (assuming that one does not know that the probabilities are unequal). It is, of course, nothing else than the principle of indifference which establishes this equality of probabilities. But while it is admitted that this principle 'will continue to be a most fertile idea in the theory of probability' it has also been criticized for reasons other than those of the maximin type.

Some theorists do not accept the indifference principle as a formal postulate, but believe that there is 'an element of truth' in it --a rather odd and ambiguous position indeed. One objection is not very serious. It is that the principle would not be strictly applicable for a person who has had the relevant experience. As the argument runs, one cannot expect a person to maintain a symmetrical attitude toward a kind of situation (such as when confronted with a piece of apparatus) with which 'e has had long experience. Such a person would have to continue believing against all odds that the possible outcomes of such a situation were equally probable and independent from case to case. Since the principle of indifference applies to situations of 'complete uncertainty' and the principle of truth to situations of 'complete certainty', there is a wide range of situations between these two epistemological extremes. Situations in which a person has had some relevant experience are typically situations in which 'e is not completely uncertain anymore (hopefully for the right reasons). A relevantist interpretation of the principle of indifference will therefore bypass the objection altogether: probabilities should be taken equal, unless the assumption that they are unequal can be justified. Hence, the 'element of truth' in the principle of indifference is that a symmetrical initial attitude towards probabilities needs no justification.

(Note that the traditional belief that all religions would be equally valid which is called "indifferentism" can only be held by those who confuse ideologies or systems of thought in general with religions, and who have never seriously reflected on the attitude assumed in different systems of thought with respect to truth and its interpretation, and with respect to neutrality and its interpretation. To be an indifferentist a person must be totally ignorant of the completely anti-indifferentist content of the religions claimed to be 'equally valid'.)

It has been argued, too, that people do in practise not act on the indifference principle, nor on the maximin principle or some other general decision-theoretical rule. But objections of this sort are rather weak. Firstly, even where only consequentialist or teleological considerations are concerned, there is no reason to suppose that people always act rationally --on the contrary. Secondly, even if we assume that they always do act rationally, it may not be clear what end or ends they have in mind. Thus, according to the indifference principle, taking part in a lottery is irrational if the participator's sole aim is to win a prize. If there are many lots and few prizes, it is unneutral to expect that one will win such a prize. Yet, if the lottery is held in aid of a good cause, and if it is known that the money one will probably lose, goes to a cause one supports, then one does behave rationally nonetheless. In such a case one spends money on something which will, presumably, always serve a good end, either a personal or a nonpersonal one.

A more serious objection against the principle of indifference is that it is 'not always obvious what the symmetry of the information is'. There may be partitions of the domain in question which many different people all consider uniform partitions, but the partitioning may in other instances be controversial. Nonetheless, where there is, perhaps, no agreement on a single, 'correct' way of partitioning, people will probably agree that a great number of partitions is not correct. In all those cases the indifference principle is still operative in that it makes it impossible to justify many unneutral expectations. In the next section we shall take a look at an example of the indifference principle's marked effectiveness even when it is not immediately obvious what the equal probabilities must be assigned to.



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