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Are Objections to Decision Theory also Objections to the Dual Process Theory of Action?

The dual-process theory of instrumental action postulates that, among the processes guiding action selection, there is a goal-directed process. This process is characterised in terms of two representations and their interaction: ‘a representation of the causal relationship between the action and outcome’ and ‘a representation of the current incentive value, or utility, of the outcome’ (Dickinson, 2016, p. 177; see Instrumental Actions: Goal-Directed and Habitual). What are these representations? And how does their interaction guide action? As we saw in What Are Preferences?, it is tempting to appeal to decision theory to answer both questions. But, as we saw in An Objection to Decision Theory?, there are objections to some consturals of decision theory. Are these objections also objections to the combination of decision theory and the dual-process theory of instrumental action?

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The first minute of this section covers the same ground as the start of What Are Preferences?.

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decision theory : I use ‘decision theory’ for the theory elaborated by Jeffrey (1983). Variants are variously called ‘expected utility theory’ (Hargreaves-Heap & Varoufakis, 2004), ‘revealed preference theory’ (Sen, 1973) and ‘the theory of rational choice’ (Sugden, 1991). As the differences between variants are not important for our purposes, the term can be used for any of core formal parts of the standard approaches based on Ramsey (1931) and Savage (1972).
dual-process theory of instrumental action : instrumental action ‘is controlled by two dissociable processes: a goal-directed and an habitual process’ (Dickinson, 2016, p. 177).
instrumental action : An action is instrumental if it happens in order to bring about an outcome, as when you press a lever in order to obtain food. (In this case, obtaining food is the outcome, lever pressing is the action, and the action is instrumental because it occurs in order to bring it about that you obtain food.)
You may variations on this definition of instrumental in the literature. Dickinson (2016, p. 177) characterises instrumental actions differently: in place of the teleological ‘in order to bring about an outcome’, he stipulates that an instrumental action is one that is ‘controlled by the contingency between’ the action and an outcome. And de Wit & Dickinson (2009, p. 464) stipulate that ‘instrumental actions are learned’.


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