Econometrica: Jan 1991, Volume 59, Issue 1

Lexicographic Probabilities and Choice Under Uncertainty

https://doi.org/0012-9682(199101)59:1<61:LPACUU>2.0.CO;2-V
p. 61-79

Adam Brandenburger, Eddie Dekel, Lawrence Blume

Two properties of preferences and representations for choice under uncertainty which play an important role in decision theory are: (i) admissibility, the requirement that weakly dominated actions should not be chosen; and (ii) the existence of well defined conditional probabilities, that is, given any event a conditional probability which is concentrated on that event and which corresponds to the individual's preferences. The conventional Bayesian theory of choice under uncertainty, subjective expected utility (SEU) theory, fails to satisfy these properties--weakly dominated acts may be chosen, and the usual definition of conditional probabilities applies only to non-null events. This paper develops a non-Archimedean variant of SEU where decision makers have lexicographic beliefs; that is, there are (first-order) likely events as well as (higher-order) events which are infinitely less likely but not necessarily impossible. This generalization of preferences, from those having an SEU representation to those having a representation with lexicographic beliefs, can be made to satisfy admissibility and yield well defined conditional probabilities and at the same time to allow for "null" events. The need for a synthesis of expected utility with admissibility, and to provide a ranking of null events, has often been stressed in the decision theory literature. Furthermore, lexicographic beliefs are appropriate for characterizing refinements of Nash equilibrium. In this paper we discuss: axioms on, and behavioral properties of, individual preferences which characterize lexicographic beliefs; probability-theoretic properties of the representations; and the relationships with other recent extensions of Bayesian SEU theory.

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