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Games, Norms, and Utterances

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  13 May 2024


A body of work proposes that social-norm change can be explained in terms of game theory. These game theoretic models, however, don't fully account for how and why utterances are used to change social norms. This paper describes the problem and some of the solution elements. There are three existing, relevant, game-based models. The first is a game theoretic model of social norm change (Bicchieri, 2005, 2016). This accounts for how individuals make decisions to adhere to or violate norms, based on empirical expectations of how others will behave. The second is the idea of a conversational game (Lewis, 1979) and its extensions. This posits that speech acts are accommodated in a conversation to make what is said correct play. This feature can explain how some speech acts, such as slurring utterances, change the dynamics of a conversation. The third is a theory of pragmatic inference, known as Rational Speech Act theory (Goodman and Frank, 2016). This is a computational theory of pragmatics, of how listeners interpret utterances and how speakers construct utterances that can be understood. This paper proposes, without setting out the full formal model, that elements of these three theories need to be incorporated together into a game theoretic model of how utterances change long-term social norms.

Copyright © The Royal Institute of Philosophy and the contributors 2024

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