On decision-theoretic foundations for defaults

Ronen I. Brafman*, Nir Friedman

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

8 Scopus citations


In recent years, considerable effort has gone into understanding default reasoning. Most of this effort concentrated on the question of entailment, i.e., what conclusions are warranted by a knowledge-base of defaults. Surprisingly, few works formally examine the general role of defaults. We argue that an examination of this role is necessary in order to understand defaults, and suggest a concrete role for defaults: Defaults simplify our decision-making process, allowing us to make fast, approximately optimal decisions by ignoring certain possible states. In order to formalize this approach, we examine decision making in the framework of decision theory. We use probability and utility to measure the impact of possible states on the decision-making process. More precisely, we examine when a consequence relation, which is the set of default inferences made by an inference system, can be compatible with such a decision-theoretic setup. We characterize general properties that such consequence relations must satisfy and contrast them with previous analysis of default consequence relations in the literature. In particular, we show that such consequence relations must satisfy the properties of cumulative reasoning. Finally, we compare our approach with Poole's decision-theoretic defaults, and show how both can be combined to form an attractive framework for reasoning about decisions.

Original languageAmerican English
Pages (from-to)1-33
Number of pages33
JournalArtificial Intelligence
Issue number1-2
StatePublished - Dec 2001

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
✩A preliminary version of this paper appears in Proc. Fourteenth International Joint Conference on Artificial Intelligence (IJCAI ’95), Montreal, Quebec, 1995, pp. 1458–1465. Some of this work was done while the authors were at Stanford University. Ronen Brafman was supported in part by ARPA grant AF F 49620-94-1-0090 and NSF grant IRI-9220645, and the Paul Ivanier Center for Robotics Research and Production Management. Nir Friedman was supported in part by the Air Force Office of Scientific Research (AFSC), under Contract F49620-91-C-0080. *Corresponding author. E-mail addresses: brafman@cs.bgu.ac.il (R.I. Brafman), nir@cs.huji.ac.il (N. Friedman).


  • Decision theory
  • Defaults
  • Non-monotonic reasoning
  • Semantics


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