Foundations of Everyday Practical Reasoning


"Since today is Saturday, the grocery store is open today and will be closed tomorrow; so let's go today." That is an example of everyday practical reasoning-reasoning directly with the propositions that one believes but may not be fully certain of. Everyday practical reasoning is one of our most familiar kinds of decisions but, unfortunately, some foundational questions about it are largely ignored in the standard decision theory: (Q1) What are the decision rules in everyday practical reasoning that connect qualitative belief and desire to preference over acts? (Q2) What sort of logic should govern qualitative beliefs in everyday practical reasoning, and to what extent is that logic necessary for the purposes of qualitative decisions? (Q3) What kinds of qualitative decisions are always representable as results of everyday practical reasoning? (Q4) Under what circumstances do the results of everyday practical reasoning agree with the Bayesian ideal of expected utility maximization? This paper proposes a rigorous decision theory for answering all of those questions, which is developed in parallel to Savage's (1954) foundations of expected utility maximization. In light of a new representation result, everyday practical reasoning provides a sound and complete method for a very wide class of qualitative decisions; and, to that end, qualitative beliefs must be allowed to be closed under classical logic plus a well-known nonmonotonic logic|the so-called system P.