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Overview

sure-thing principle


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A precept, first enunciated and named by the US decision theorist Leonard J(immie) Savage (1917–71) in his book The Foundations of Statistics (1954), according to which, if an alternative A is judged to be as good as another B in all possible states of the world and better than B in at least one, then a rational decision maker will prefer A to B. Savage's illustration refers to a person deciding whether or not to buy a certain property shortly before a presidential election, the outcome of which could radically affect the property market. ‘Seeing that he would buy in either event, he decides that he should buy, even though he does not know which event will obtain’ (p. 21). This principle is accepted by virtually all decision theorists, although it appears counter-intuitive to some people in puzzles such as Newcomb's problem, the Prisoner's Dilemma game, and the N-person Prisoner's Dilemma. A sure-thing alternative in a decision or a game of strategy is a dominant alternative/strategy.


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