ACU students wins philosophy prize

Dianoia Institute of Philosophy MPhil student Mitch Barrington is clearly a philosopher of the future.

The post-graduate student won the 2021 Postgraduate Presentation Prize by the Australasian Association of Philosophy, for his paper titled "Ignoring the Improbable".

Mitch beat out shortlisted candidates from ANU and the Universities of Adelaide and Queensland for the prize awarded at last week’s annual AAP conference.

The presentation explored how we make decisions when there are many possibilities, including some that appear to be very remote.

“Many problems in decision theory appear to be solvable if agents simply ignore some possibilities. The utility of this approach has given rise to a substantial number of theories endorsing “thresholdism”: the view that possibilities whose probability is below a particular threshold should be discounted entirely. This paper argues that ignoring possibilities—even extremely remote ones—comes at a hefty cost for one’s ability to make rational decisions. First, the approach is inescapably partition-sensitive: agents will undertake different acts depending on how the world is described. Second, agents become insensitive to differences in the probability of excluded states; they will be indifferent between taking a small risk and an even smaller risk. Third, agents become insensitive to differences in the value of outcomes in excluded states; they will be indifferent between risking a bad outcome and an even worse outcome. And fourth, excluding a state affects the expected value of all acts to which the state is relevant, generating implausible prescriptions for peripheral acts. For instance, agents will not take any bet on the excluded state, since they have assigned it a probability of zero.”

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