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July 2001 - Volume 69 Issue 4 Page 891 - 934


Representing Preferences with a Unique Subjective State Space

Eddie Dekel
Barton L. Lipman
Aldo Rustichini


We extend Kreps’ (1979) analysis of preference for flexibility, reinterpreted by Kreps (1992) as a model of unforeseen contingencies. We enrich the choice set, consequently obtaining uniqueness results that were not possible in Kreps’ model. We consider several representations and allow the agent to prefer commitment in some contingencies. In the representations, the agent acts as if she had coherent beliefs about a set of possible future (ex post) preferences, each of which is an expected-utility preference. We show that this set of ex post preferences, called the subjective state space, is essentially unique given the restriction that all ex post preferences are expected-utility preferences and is minimal even without this restriction. Because the subjective state space is identified, the way ex post utilities are aggregated into an ex ante ranking is also essentially unique. Hence when a representation that is additive across states exists, the additivity is meaningful in the sense that all representations are intrinsically additive. Uniqueness enables us to show that the size of the subjective state space provides a measure of the agent’s uncertainty about future contingencies and that the way the states are aggregated indicates whether these contingencies lead to a desire for flexibility or commitment.

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