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Preference Change Workshop 28th May - 30th May, 2009 London School of Economics (LSE)

Supported by the Nuffield Foundation, the LSE Annual Fund and the LSE Choice Group|.

Organised by Franz Dietrich, Conrad Heilmann and Christian List

A report of this workshop can be found in the forthcoming issue of the "The Reasoner" and at loriweb.org|.

Modelling Preference Change

Preference change is a phenomenon that everyone experiences in himself or herself. Such change can be gradual or radical, expected or surprising, caused by external experiences (such as encountering another culture) or by internal influences (such as aging), and so on.

How should preference change be explained and modelled? This is a methodological question of tremendous importance, with repercussions in various areas such as dynamic decision theory, welfare economics, consumer theory, moral psychology, philosophy of mind, political science, and the study of deliberation.

Yet the question is far from settled, and a science of preference change, if it exists at all at this point, is certainly in its infancy. To mention only one point of disagreement, standard rational choice models explain every preference change by an underlying belief change, whereas critics reject this reduction.

The aim of this workshop is to bring together different researchers with interests in this area and to discuss fresh perspectives.


Thursday, 28th May (Venue: G108, 20 Kingsway)

13.30 Welcome and Introduction
13.40 Richard Bradley (LSE)
Revising Conditional Preferences (Slides|)
14.30 Coffee Break
15.00 Nick Baigent (Graz)
Menu Independence, Consequentialism and Principled Choice (Slides|)
15.50 Coffee Break
16.20 Wlodek Rabinowicz (Lund)
Preference Utilitarianism by Way of Preference Change? (Abstract|, Slides|, Paper|)
17.10 Short Break
17.20 Conrad Heilmann (LSE)
Preference Change in the Multiple-Self (Abstract|, Slides|)

Friday, 29th May (Venue: G108, 20 Kingsway)

09.30 Coffee, Tea and Snacks
10.00 Peter Hammond (Warwick)
Aberrant Events and Enlivened Decision Trees (Abstract|, Slides|)
10.50 Coffee Break
11.20 Sven Ove Hansson (Stockholm)
Preference Change and Belief Change - What is the Difference? (Abstract|)
12.10 Lunch
13.30 Christian List (LSE)
Non-Informational Preference Change, Part 1 (joint work with Franz Dietrich) (Abstract|, Paper)|
14.20 Coffee Break
14.50 Franz Dietrich (LSE and Maastricht)
Non-Informational Preference Change, Part 2, a reason-based model of rational choice (joint work with Christian List) (Ext. Abstract|, Slides|)
15.40 Coffee Break
16.10 Brian Hill (HEC Paris)
Belief and Preference Change (Abstract|)
17.00 Short Break
17.10 Krister Bykvist (Jesus College, Oxford)
Well-Being for Changing Selves (Abstract|, Slides|)

Saturday, 30th May (Venue: T206, Lakatos Building)

09.30 Coffee, Tea and Snacks
10.00 Sébastien Konieczny (CRIL - CNRS Lens)
Iterated Belief Revision and Improvement Operators (Abstract|, Slides|, Paper)|
10.50 Coffee Break
11.20 Katie Steele (LSE)
Higher-order desire and preference change (Abstract|, Slides|)
12.10 Short Break
12.20 Luc Bovens (LSE)
The Ethics of Nudge (Slides|)


(please consider the changed venue for the first two days of the workshop)

Venue: London School of Economics. Directions to LSE can be found here|, the LSE Campus Map is here|.

Thursday and Friday: G108, 20 Kingsway (building G on the LSE campus map)

Saturday: T206, Lakatos Building (building T on the LSE campus map)

Further Information

Participation is free of charge but registration is needed. Please email c.heilmann @ lse.ac.uk if you are interested in registering for this workshop or if you have any other questions.

The workshop is organized in collaboration with the LSE Choice Group. The LSE Choice Group| is a group of people based for the most part at the LSE with a shared interest in the theory of rational decision making in individuals and groups and its application to economic, political and social questions. We hold regular seminars on Wednesday afternoons from 17-30 to 19-00 in T206 (2nd floor, Lakatos Building, Portugal Street. Please email c.heilmann @ lse.ac.uk if you are interested in regular updates on seminars and events.


Wlodek Rabinowicz (Lund) Preference Utilitarianism by Way of Preference Change?

This paper revisits Richard Hare's classical and much discussed argument for preference utilitarianism (Moral Thinking, 1981), which relies on the conception of moral deliberation as a process of thought experimentation, with concomitant preference change. The paper focuses on an apparent gap in Hare's reasoning, the so-called No-Conflict Problem. A solution to this difficulty which was proposed in (Rabinowicz and Strömberg, 1996) is re-examined and shown to lead to a number of difficulties, not least in connection with the choice of an appropriate measure of distance between preference states. The paper therefore also considers an alternative idea, due to Daniel Elstein. This new proposal may well turn out to be the best way of filling the gap in Hare's argument. The paper also examines whether the gap is there to begin with: The problem should perhaps be dissolved rather than solved. This suggestion goes back to an idea of Zeno Vendler (1988). Unfortunately, it turns out that Vendler's move does not save Hare from criticism: It does dissolve the No-Conflict Problem, but at the same time gives rise to another, potentially more serious difficulty.


Conrad Heilmann (LSE) Preference Change in the Multiple-Self

Preference change happens over time. Modelling preference change thus commits one to analyse a decision-maker with more than one set of preferences over time. The multiple-self model considers a decision-makers as consisting of different selves at a time and over time, thus providing foundations for models of preference change. The notion of connectedness between selves is introduced to characterise the stability of preferences and other features of the decision-maker. It is shown how different interpretations of connectedness and differing local connectedness between subsets of selves can be used to characterise and resolve deliberation about preference change and preference conflict, such as in problems of weakness of the will and sequential choice.


Peter Hammond (Warwick) Aberrant Events and Enlivened Decision Trees

The existing literature on decision theory, games, and statistics is based on a framework of complete extensive form models. These were pioneered by Zermelo for two-person games of perfect information, then von Neumann (and Kuhn) for extensive form games with finitely many players, and by Kolmogorov for representing stochastic processes as probability measures over function space. This framework completely overlooks some serious issues concerning the need to revise any practical decision model in the light of "aberrant" events that could not be included in a necessarily simplified original model. There is a consequent value of additional flexibility (or sometimes rigidity) because such revisions may be needed. Estimating the value of this additional flexibility, however, is a major problem in induction. Finally, this approach suggests that changing behaviour may be due to an enlivened decision model rather than changes in preferences per se.


Sven Ove Hansson (Stockholm) Preference Change and Belief Change - What is the Difference?

In order to clarify the relations between belief change and preference change we need to consider the more fundamental relationships between our belief system and our system of preferences. Based on considerations of the evolutionary advantages that these systems give us and on our cognitive limitations, it is proposed that (i) it is meaningful to distinguish between the two types of change but (ii) we are in practice unable to do that completely. It is proposed how a model can be constructed that includes changes in both beliefs and preferences, so that for instance the effects of belief changes on preferences (and the other way around) can be studied. Some preliminary results from studies of such a model are reported, pertaining to the question whether all preference changes can be adequately modelled as belief-driven.


Christian List (LSE) Non-Informational Preference Change, Part 1 (joint work with Franz Dietrich)

According to standard rational choice theory, as commonly used in political science and economics, an agents fundamental preferences are exogenously fixed, and any preference change over decision options is due to Bayesian information learning. Although elegant and parsimonious, this model fails to account for preference change driven by experiences or psychological changes distinct from information learning. We develop a model of non-informational preference change. Alternatives are modelled as points in some multidimensional space, only some of whose dimensions play a role in shaping the agents preferences. Any change in these motivationally salient dimensions can change the agents preferences. How it does so is described by a new representation theorem. Our model not only captures a wide range of frequently observed phenomena, but also generalizes some standard representations of preferences in political science and economics.


Brian Hill (HEC Paris) Belief and Preference Change

Belief, preference and utility stand in a close and intricate relationship to one another. On the one hand, it is difficult to distinguish, in a principled manner, changes in one from changes in the others, to the extent that one may doubt in some cases whether such a distinction even makes sense. On the other hand, there is a tacit acceptance by those which do accept such a distinction of a parallel between changes in beliefs and changes in utilities or preferences: this can be seen in recent models in the Jeffrey, belief revision and dynamic epistemic logical traditions. In this talk, I (re)consider some of the options available to someone who wishes to develop a model of preference change, paying particular attention to the question of what changes and to the analogy between belief change and preference / utility change.


Krister Bykvist (Jesus College, Oxford) Well-Being for Changing Selves

Endorsement theories of well-being are often said to accept

(1) x is good for you only if you favour x,

(2) x is better for you than y only if you prefer x to y.

I shall show that these conditions generate an inconsistency in cases where our endorsement attitudes change across alternative worlds or outcomes. This argument can be generalized to endorsement theories that define a person's good as the right combination of objective desirability and subjective endorsement. The best response, I shall argue, is to keep (1) and drop (2).


Sébastien Konieczny (CRIL - CNRS Lens) Iterated Belief Revision and Improvement Operators

We introduce a new class of change operators. They are a generalization of usual iterated belief revision operators. The idea is to relax the success property, so the new information is not necessarily believed after the improvement. But its plausibility has increased in the epistemic state. So, iterating the process sufficiently many times, the new information will be finally believed. We give syntactical and semantical characterizations of these operators.


Katie Steele (LSE) Higher-order desire and preference change

In the first part of this talk, I discuss why 'higher-order desire' promises to be useful for modelling changes in desire/preference that are not prompted by the receipt of new information. In the second part, I try to take this idea further. The problem is that higher-order desire is itself rather elusive; in particular, I critique Richard Jeffrey's analysis of the concept in his 1974 paper 'Preferences Among Preferences'. Indeed, when we try to cash out higher-order desire in a manner consistent with the Bayesian model, important questions arise about what in fact are the objects of (first-order) desire. These questions are worth pursuing because they are also crucial to our understanding of the original problem- desire/preference change.