Representation Theorems and the Foundations of Decision Theory

with Chris Meacham

Australasian Journal of Philosophy, 2011, 89(4): 641–63

Representation theorems are often taken to provide the foundations for decision theory. First, they are taken to characterize degrees of belief and utilities. Second, they are taken to justify two fundamental rules of rationality: that we should have probabilistic degrees of belief and that we should act as expected utility maximizers. We argue that representation theorems cannot serve either of these foundational purposes, and that recent attempts to defend the foundational importance of representation theorems are unsuccessful. As a result, we should reject these claims, and lay the foundations of decision theory on firmer ground.