Facade, Arts West North Building, 2017. Photographer Unknown © University of Melbourne

William Barrett

William Barrett (MA in Philosophy, 2019) ‘Gambling, Rationality and Public Policy

Gambling involves complex social and commercial institutions and practices, large numbers of participants, and vast amounts of money. In this thesis I introduce a philosophical perspective on gambling and its regulation. I develop an account of the rationality of gambling and derive implications for the formation of public policy. The thesis uses methods and theories developed in epistemology, the philosophy of probability, and other branches of philosophy to address conceptual and normative issues about gambling. Along with discussing the concept of gambling the first chapter argues that rational action is tied up with well-informed choice, and that a person can be well-informed relative to choices about gambling in two ways: knowing about the probability of winning both in the short and long-term, or by having relevant skills or information. The second and third chapters aim to show how gambling choices may be irrational because they involve epistemic error, through gamblers forming partial beliefs in ways that fail to be constrained by an adequate understanding of the probable outcomes of events or by basing expectations on ungrounded beliefs about luck. In the fourth chapter I ask whether what I have said so far about the rationality of gambling and its conceptual relationship to autonomous choice raises any ethical issues relevant to public policy. I expand on my claim that the connection between rationality, interests and autonomy forms part of the normative grounds of public policy. I defend the view that public policy concerns practices and institutions which have particular characteristics that suggest the moral principles to be applied in forming policy and argue that the principle of respect for personal autonomy has a central role in good public policy on gambling. The thesis concludes by summarising my arguments for public policy that does not facilitate gambling.

Supervisor: Andrew Alexandra