Choosing for Changing Selves

Transformative experience and the knowledge norms for action: Moss on Paul’s challenge to decision theory

in Lambert, E. and J. Schwenkler (eds.) Transformative Experience (OUP)

L. A. Paul (2014, 2015) argues that the possibility of epistemically transformative experiences poses serious and novel problems for the orthodox theory of rational choice, namely, expected utility theory — I call her argument the Utility Ignorance Objection. In a pair of earlier papers, I responded to Paul’s challenge (Pettigrew 2015, 2016), and a number of other philosophers have responded in similar ways (Dougherty, et al. 2015, Harman 2015) — I call our argument the Fine-Graining Response.  Paul has her own reply to this response, which we might call the Authenticity Reply. But Sarah Moss has recently offered an alternative reply to the Fine-Graining Response on Paul’s behalf (Moss 2017) — we’ll call it the No Knowledge Reply. This appeals to the knowledge norm of action, together with Moss’ novel and intriguing account of probabilistic knowledge. In this paper, I consider Moss’ reply and argue that it fails. I argue first that it fails as a reply made on Paul’s behalf, since it forces us to abandon many of the features of Paul’s challenge that make it distinctive and with which Paul herself is particularly concerned. Then I argue that it fails as a reply independent of its fidelity to Paul’s intentions.


Illness as transformative experience (with Havi Carel and Ian James Kidd)

The Lancet 388(10050):1152-53

Imagine that you need to decide whether to adopt a child or not. It’s the only avenue to parenthood that is open to you. If you adopt a child, you will become a parent. You will experience the (currently unknown) highs and lows of being a parent. If you decide not to adopt, you will never know what being a parent is like. The decision you are asked to make is doubly risky. This problem has been discussed recently by philosopher L A Paul in her book Transformative Experience. Paul suggests that experiences such as becoming a parent are doubly transformative. First, they are epistemically transformative: you can only learn what it is like to be a parent by becoming one. Second, experiences such as becoming a parent are existentially transformative: you don’t know how such an experience will change you and your preferences. We suggest that serious illness is a transformative experience and that Paul’s framework usefully characterises central aspects of it.

PDF, Journal

Review of L. A. Paul’s Transformative Experience

Mind 125(499):927-935

In this review, I focus mainly on Paul’s own solution to the problems that she raises for orthodox decision theory; and I consider the possibility of an alternative solution, which I originally proposed in ‘Transformative Experience and Decision Theory’ (Philosophy and Phenomenological Research, 2014).

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Transformative experience and decision theory

Philosophy and Phenomenological Research 91(3):766-774. (Contribution to book symposium on L. A. Paul’s Transformative Experience)

I have never eaten Vegemite—should I try it? I currently have no children—should I apply to adopt a child? In each case, one might imagine, whichever choice I make, I can make it rationally by appealing to the principles of decision theory. Not always, says L. A. Paul. In Transformative Experience, Paul issues two challenges to decision theory based upon examples such as these. I will show how we might reformulate decision theory in the face of these challenges. Then I will consider the philosophical questions that remain after the challenges have been accommodated.

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