CLLAM seminarium: Sebastian Watzl (Universitetet i Oslo)


Datum: fredag 17 maj 2024

Tid: 10.00 – 12.00

Plats: D734

Attention and Rational Choice


Formal models of decision making are widely employed in philosophy as well as microeconomics. They are variously described as rational choice theory or decision theory. The standard decision theoretic apparatus has no role for attention in its modelling. It treats rational agents as acting on the basis of preferences (desires) and credences (beliefs or expectations). At the same time, psychology and empirically informed philosophy of mind and action shows that attention plays essential and constructive roles in both belief revision and agency. In this paper, I sketch why attention should be included in decision-theoretic models, how to incorporate attention into them in a way that keeps what makes such models valuables, that is psychologically plausible, and theoretically and formally elegant and tractable.

Agents, I argue, are informationally blind to issues they are not paying any attention to. All of an agent’s information gathering involves attention (at least, it won’t impact the agent’s beliefs without attention). Agents also are decisionally blind to options that don’t occupy their attention.

The options an agent decides between at any time is limited by the issues the agent is paying attention to in making that decision. I will show that informational blindness and decisional blindness are two sides of the same coin. This, I suggest, in part, is what makes attention decision-theoretically and normatively interesting: its role in mind and action is theoretical and practical at the same time.

I show when attention, treated in this way, allows agents to act in ways that are both epistemically and practically better than they could act without attention, and how the view sketched here affects recent discussions on the nature and aim of inquiry.