Decision Theory and Morality

James Dreier

in The Oxford Handbook of Rationality

Published in print February 2004 | ISBN: 9780195145397
Published online September 2009 | | DOI:
Decision Theory and Morality

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This article is about decision theory and morality. Its main point is to show how the formal apparatus of decision theory is connected to some abstract issues in moral theory. It does not aim to be comprehensive. Its preliminaries section explains how to think about utility and the advice that decision theory gives. In particular, decision theory does not assume or insist that all rational agents act in their own self-interest. The second section discusses decision theory's contributions to social contract theory, with emphasis on David Gauthier's rationalist contractualism. The third section considers a reinterpretation of the formal theory that decision theorists use: utility might represent goodness rather than preference. Finally, the last section of this article discusses Harsanyi's theorem.

Keywords: decision theory; morality; utility; rational agents; social contract theory; David Gauthier

Article.  11000 words. 

Subjects: Philosophy ; Moral Philosophy ; Epistemology

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