Online podcast symposium

November 7, 2008

My sovereignty paper is this week’s featured paper in PublicReason’s podcast symposium. If you’re interested, head over there for the discussion.

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A Bleg Concerning the Utility of Information

November 4, 2008

Consider the following scenario.

Scenario One (the “control” scenario).  In the morning you tune your television to the Weather Channel and find the forecaster saying (what’s true) that all meteorolgical signs point towards rain in the afternoon.  You trust the forecaster and so you accept the information that all meteorological signs point towards rain in the afternoon.  With this new information you make the rational (by stipulation) decision to take an umbrella with you to work.  As it happens, it does rain that afternoon and you benefit from having brought the umbrella.

Question: was the information that all meteorological signs point to rain useful information with respect to your decision whether to bring an umbrella?  Obvious answer: yes.

Scenario Two (the “experimental” scenario).  

In the morning you tune your television to the Weather Channel and find the forecaster saying (what’s true) that all meteorolgical signs point towards rain in the afternoon.  You trust the forecaster and so you accept the information that all meteorological signs point towards rain in the afternoon.  With this new information you make the rational (by stipulation) decision to take an umbrella with you to work.  But, despite the fact that all signs pointed to rain, it does not rain that afternoon, and so you incur some cost by having brought the umbrella.

Question: was the information that all meteorological signs point to rain useful information with respect to your decision whether to bring an umbrella?  It seems to me that there isn’t an obvious answer here.  After some thought, Heather and I think that maybe we should say something like this: with respect to deciding what to do, that information was useful, but with respect to getting what you want, that information was not useful.

Does that sound right to anyone else?  Anyone have a better idea?  Any thoughts at all?  We’d love to hear them!