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Ambiguity and uncertainty in Ellsberg and Shackle

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  • Marcello Basili

    ()

  • Carlo Zappia

    ()

Abstract

This paper argues that Ellsberg’s and Shackle’s frameworks for discussing the limits of the (subjective) probabilistic approach to decision theory are not as different as they may appear. To stress the common elements in their theories Keynes’s Treatise on Probability provides an essential starting point. Keynes’s rejection of well-defined probability functions, and of maximisation as a guide to human conduct, is shown to imply a reconsideration of what probability theory can encompass, that is in the same vein of Ellsberg’s and Shackle’s concern in the years of the consolidation of Savage’s new probabilistic mainstream. The parallel between Keynes and the two decision theorists is drawn by means of a particular assessment of Shackle’s theory of decision, namely, it is interpreted in the light of Ellsberg’s doctoral dissertation. In this thesis, published only as late as 2001, Ellsberg developed the details and devised the philosophical background of his criticism of Savage as first put forward in the famed 1961 QJE article. The paper discusses the grounds on which the ambiguity surrounding the decision maker in Ellsberg’s urn experiment can be deemed analogous to the uncertainty faced by Shackle’s entrepreneur taking “unique decisions.” The paper argues also that the insights at the basis of the work of both Shackle and Ellsberg, as well as the criteria for decision under uncertainty they put forward, are relevant to understand the development of modern decision theory.

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Paper provided by Department of Economics, University of Siena in its series Department of Economics University of Siena with number 460.

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Date of creation: Sep 2005
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Handle: RePEc:usi:wpaper:460

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Keywords: uncertainty; weight of argument; non-additive probability;

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  1. Sujoy Mukerji, 1996. "Understanding the nonadditive probability decision model (*)," Economic Theory, Springer, vol. 9(1), pages 23-46.
  2. Kelsey, D., 1992. "Maxmin Expected Utility and Weight of Evidence," Discussion Papers 92-20, Department of Economics, University of Birmingham.
  3. Lawson, Tony, 1985. "Uncertainty and Economic Analysis," Economic Journal, Royal Economic Society, vol. 95(380), pages 909-27, December.
  4. Runde, Jochen, 1990. "Keynesian Uncertainty and the Weight of Arguments," Economics and Philosophy, Cambridge University Press, vol. 6(02), pages 275-292, October.
  5. Kelsey, D., 1991. "Choice Under Partial Uncertainty," Discussion Papers 91-19, Department of Economics, University of Birmingham.
  6. Lachmann, Ludwig M, 1976. "From Mises to Shackle: An Essay on Austrian Economics and the Kaleidic Society," Journal of Economic Literature, American Economic Association, vol. 14(1), pages 54-62, March.
  7. Kelsey, David & Quiggin, John, 1992. " Theories of Choice under Ignorance and Uncertainty," Journal of Economic Surveys, Wiley Blackwell, vol. 6(2), pages 133-53.
  8. Schmeidler, David, 1989. "Subjective Probability and Expected Utility without Additivity," Econometrica, Econometric Society, vol. 57(3), pages 571-87, May.
  9. Marcello Basili & Alain Chateauneuf & Fulvio Fontini, 2004. "Choices under ambiguity with familiar and unfamiliar outcomes," Cahiers de la Maison des Sciences Economiques b04115, Université Panthéon-Sorbonne (Paris 1).
  10. Gilboa, Itzhak & Schmeidler, David, 1989. "Maxmin expected utility with non-unique prior," Journal of Mathematical Economics, Elsevier, vol. 18(2), pages 141-153, April.
  11. Anand, Paul, 1991. "The Nature of Rational Choice and The Foundations of Statistics," Oxford Economic Papers, Oxford University Press, vol. 43(2), pages 199-216, April.
  12. Amos Tversky & Daniel Kahneman, 1979. "Prospect Theory: An Analysis of Decision under Risk," Levine's Working Paper Archive 7656, David K. Levine.
  13. Tversky, Amos & Kahneman, Daniel, 1992. " Advances in Prospect Theory: Cumulative Representation of Uncertainty," Journal of Risk and Uncertainty, Springer, vol. 5(4), pages 297-323, October.
  14. Runde, Jochen, 1994. "Keynesian Uncertainty and Liquidity Preference," Cambridge Journal of Economics, Oxford University Press, vol. 18(2), pages 129-44, April.
  15. Itzhak Gilboa & David Schmeidler, 1992. "Additive Representation of Non-Additive Measures and the Choquet Integral," Discussion Papers 985, Northwestern University, Center for Mathematical Studies in Economics and Management Science.
  16. Quiggin, John, 1982. "A theory of anticipated utility," Journal of Economic Behavior & Organization, Elsevier, vol. 3(4), pages 323-343, December.
  17. Ghirardato, Paolo & Maccheroni, Fabio & Marinacci, Massimo, 2004. "Differentiating ambiguity and ambiguity attitude," Journal of Economic Theory, Elsevier, vol. 118(2), pages 133-173, October.
  18. Tversky, Amos & Wakker, Peter, 1995. "Risk Attitudes and Decision Weights," Econometrica, Econometric Society, vol. 63(6), pages 1255-80, November.
  19. Yaari, Menahem E, 1987. "The Dual Theory of Choice under Risk," Econometrica, Econometric Society, vol. 55(1), pages 95-115, January.
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Cited by:
  1. Aldred, Jonathan, 2013. "Justifying precautionary policies: Incommensurability and uncertainty," Ecological Economics, Elsevier, vol. 96(C), pages 132-140.
  2. Élise PAYZAN LE NESTOUR, 2010. "Bayesian Learning in UnstableSettings: Experimental Evidence Based on the Bandit Problem," Swiss Finance Institute Research Paper Series 10-28, Swiss Finance Institute.
  3. Carlo Zappia, 2012. "Re-reading Keynes after the crisis: probability and decision," Department of Economics University of Siena 646, Department of Economics, University of Siena.

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