Let's say that you're planning to move to a new town and are wondering where you should live. Your options are the different places you could live. For example, you might list the following options:
- Camp on public land
- Rent an inexpensive apartment
- Rent a more expensive apartment
- Buy an inexpensive house
- Buy a more expensive house
This list isn't exhaustive or particularly precise. For example, even if you decide to buy an inexpensive house, you'll presumably want to determine which particular inexpensive house you should buy.
In some cases, an imprecise list like this one is all you need. In other cases, however, it might make more sense to make a more precise list. For example, if you are deciding which of two houses to buy, you should list those as your options.
How might things turn out if you perform that action?
In asking how things might turn out if you perform a certain action, I am not interested in the particular consequences this action might have but rather the different ways the world might turn out if you were to perform this action.
So, for example, if you are considering asking someone on a date, you might give the following responses to this question:
- S/he says no and makes fun of me to his/her friends.
- S/he says no but is nice about it.
- S/he says yes, and we go on a date, but we don't hit it off.
- S/he says yes, and we go on a date. I fall head over heels for him/her only to be dumped later on.
- S/he says yes, and we go on a date. We fall in love with one another and get married.
This list obviously isn't exhaustive. For example, even if you two fall in love with one another and get married, while it's possible that you'll living happily ever after, it's also possible that you'll have a strained marriage or that you'll get divorced.
Even though the list isn't exhaustive, that's okay. What's important is that you list those outcomes the relevant action is most likely to have. In most cases, the less likely outcomes end up cancelling each other out. For example, if you're debating whether to go out to buy ice cream or just sit at home and eat the ice cream you already have, the fact that you could get hit and killed on your way to the store probably isn't worth mentioning when you list how things might turn out if go out to buy ice cream. The reason is that there's also a non-zero chance that something very good will happen to you if you go out to buy ice cream. For example, you might meet the person of your dreams, or you might find a winning lottery ticket on the ground.
All this is to say that you should focus on listing the most likely outcomes of the relevant action. Later on, when I ask you to indicate how likely you think these outcomes are to occur given your perform of the relevant action, we're going to pretend that this list is exhaustive and therefore that one of the outcomes you've listed is certain to occur given the relevant action.
Lastly, I should mention that you'll want to be thinking not only about how your performing this action will affect you, but also about how your performing this action will affect others. When I ask you to indicate how valuable you think a particular outcome is, you'll want to give me the value of the outcome in general, which is a function of how valuable you think it is for everyone affected by it, not just yourself.
The subjective probability of an outcome depends on how likely you think that outcome is to occur given the relevant action, and it should be expressed as a decimal, x, where 0 ≤ x ≤ 1. If you are sure that an outcome will not occur given the relevant action, then you should list the subjective probability of that outcome as '0'. Conversely, if you are sure that an outcome will occur given the relevant action, then you should list the subjective probability of that outcome as '1'. Usually, the subjective probability of a set of consequences will be between 0 and 1.
So, for example, if you think you can get away with a lie three-fourths (or 75%) of the time, then the subjective probability you should ascribe to your getting away with a particular lie is '.75'. If, however, you think you can get away with a lie only one-fourth (or 25%) of the time, then the subjective probability you should ascribe to your getting away with a particular lie is '.25'.
The subjective value of an outcome depends on how valuable you think that outcome is. To help you answer that question, I'd encourage you to imagine an outcome to which you'd ascribe the value '0'. Then, determine whether the outcome in question is better or worse than that and how much better or worse it is.
So, for example, you might ascribe a subjective value of '0' to sitting around doing nothing, a subjective value of '-10' to stubbing your toe on a piece of furniture, and a subjective value of '30' to watching your favorite television show. This would be appropriate if you think that stubbing your toe is one-third as bad as watching your favorite television show is good.
Note that the subjective value of an outcome isn't just that outcome's immediate value for you; it's that outcome's ultimate value for everyone involved. So, if you would ascribe a subjective value of '30' to your watching your favorite television show by yourself early in the evening, you might ascribe a subjective value of '45' to your watching your favorite television show with someone else who likes it half as much as you do. Moreover, you might ascribe a subjective value of '15' to your watching it by yourself late in the evening, when your doing so will result in your being especially tired the following morning.
What are you trying to decide?Done
What are your options?
How might things turn out if you perform A?
How might things turn out if you perform B?
How might things turn out if you perform C?
How might things turn out if you perform D?
How might things turn out if you perform E?