Making transformative decisions

Student thesis: Doctoral Thesis (PhD)


This thesis investigates the question of whether we can make transformative decisions rationally. The first chapter introduces and explores the nature of transformative experiences: what are they, and how do they bring about such drastic change? I argue that there is an tension between Paul’s (2014) characterisation of transformative experience and arguments that transformative experiences are imaginable. I propose a broader characterisation of transformative experiences on which transformation isn’t driven by experiential acquaintance. From Chapter 2 onwards, the thesis focuses on whether we can rationally choose to have transformative experiences. Transformative experiences pose a problem to Expected Utility Theory, our standard theory of rationality. I introduce Expected Utility Theory and the problem posed by transformative experience before surveying prominent responses to the problem of transformative experience. Some responses are more promising given my characterisation of transformative experiences, such as Kind’s (2020a) Imaginative Scaffolding proposal, though I ultimately offer reasons to reject the available responses. Chapters 4 and 5 are devoted to developing and discussing Pettigrew’s (2015; 2019) solution to the problem of transformative experience: the Fine-Graining Response and the Aggregate Utility Solution. I argue that many transformative experiences involve constitutive risk and that this poses a problem for Pettigrew’s solution. The final substantive chapter of the thesis attempts to provide an alternative diagnosis of the problem of transformative experience for rational decision-making. I argue that if we are realists about decision-theoretic attitudes, the problem can be construed as a problem about self-knowledge of desire. On this proposal, the limitations of third-personal evidence are evident: whilst it can help us recognise what is desirable, it cannot settle the question of what we, ourselves, desire.
Date of Award4 Dec 2024
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • University of St Andrews
SupervisorPhilip Alexander Ebert (Supervisor)


  • Transformative experience
  • Rationality
  • Decision theory
  • Risk

Access Status

  • Full text embargoed until
  • 30 May 2027

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