Axiomatising Incomplete Preferences through Sets of Desirable Gambles

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Marco Zaffalon
Enrique Miranda


We establish the equivalence of two very general theories: the first is the decision-theoretic formalisation of incomplete preferences based on the mixture independence axiom; the second is the theory of coherent sets of desirable gambles (bounded variables) developed in the context of imprecise probability and extended here to vector-valued gambles. Such an equivalence allows us to analyse the theory of incomplete preferences from the point of view of desirability. Among other things, this leads us to uncover an unexpected and clarifying relation: that the notion of `state independence'---the traditional assumption that we can have separate models for beliefs (probabilities) and values (utilities)---coincides with that of `strong independence' in imprecise probability; this connection leads us also to propose much weaker, and arguably more realistic, notions of state independence. Then we simplify the treatment of complete beliefs and values by putting them on a more equal footing. We study the role of the Archimedean condition---which allows us to actually talk of expected utility---, identify some weaknesses and propose alternatives that solve these. More generally speaking, we show that desirability is a valuable alternative foundation to preferences for decision theory that streamlines and unifies a number of concepts while preserving great generality. In addition, the mentioned equivalence shows for the first time how to extend the theory of desirability to imprecise non-linear utility, thus enabling us to formulate one of the most powerful self-consistent theories of reasoning and decision-making available today.

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