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This article argues that it is a waste of time seeking to treat populists as examples of homo economicus when seeking to persuade them that the conspiracy theories to which they subscribe are big lies. But it does not follow that homo economicus is worthless in this context. He has a role in explaining the evolution of the social norms whose violation is the root cause of the rise of populist movements. Such an approach requires a willingness to entertain both proximate and ultimate explanations of human behaviour simultaneously.
This commentary on the paper “Knowledge before belief” argues that it is not only in the cognitive sciences that knowledge should be separated into a separate category from belief, but also in rational decision theory. It outlines how knowledge-as-commitment – as distinct from knowledge-as-belief – can be built into an extension of the economic theory of revealed preference.
I recall an old Dilnot cartoon in which Dilnot as a child is taken to task by his mother for some naughty behavior. Her rebuke takes the form of the rhetorical question:
Suppose everybody behaved like that?
My own mother was fond of the same question. Like Dilnot in the cartoon, I would then silently rehearse the reasons that her logic was faulty. It is true that it would be bad if everybody were to behave asocially, but I am not everybody; I am just me. If my naughty behavior isn't going to affect anyone else, why does it matter to me what would happen if it did?
Benedict de Spinoza (1985) held the same view as my mother, as he reveals in the following passage on the irrationality of treachery:
What if a man could save himself from the present danger of death by treachery? If reason should recommend that it would recommend it to all men.
Nor is he the only philosopher with a fearsome reputation for analytic rigor to take this line. Immanuel Kant (1993) elevates the argument into a principle of practical reasoning in his famous categorical imperative:
Act only on the maxim that you would at the same time will to be a universal law.
Can such great minds really be wrong for the same reason that my mother was wrong?
It has become traditional to explain why the answer is yes using a simple game called the Prisoner's Dilemma. The analysis of this game is trivial and entirely unworthy of the attention that has been devoted to it in what has become an enormous literature. This chapter begins by defending the standard analysis, and continues by explaining why various attempts to refute it are fallacious. However, the more interesting question is: Why all the fuss? How come some scholars feel such a deep need to deny the obvious?
I think the answer is to be found in the fact that there are circumstances in which an appeal to what everybody is doing is indeed a very good reason for doing the same thing yourself (Section 9).
What is the value of a life? How should we regard death? This paper uses the methods of economics to defend some of the views of Epicurus against the utilitarian approach that welfare economics takes for granted.
This brief note is a commentary on Hendriks and Guala's (2014) unification of the institutional theories of Lewis, North, and Searle. It argues that the equilibrium theory of Lewis is fundamental and that the kind of equilibrium best suited in this role remains the orthodox notion of Nash.
Among other things, Baumard et al.'s “A Mutualistic Approach to Morality” considers the enforcement and establishment of moral norms, the interpersonal comparison of welfare, and the structure of fairness norms. This commentary draws attention to the relevance of the game theory literature to the first and second topic, and the social psychology literature to the third topic.
This volume explores from multiple perspectives the subtle and interesting relationship between the theory of rational choice and Darwinian evolution. In rational choice theory, agents are assumed to make choices that maximize their utility; in evolution, natural selection 'chooses' between phenotypes according to the criterion of fitness maximization. So there is a parallel between utility in rational choice theory and fitness in Darwinian theory. This conceptual link between fitness and utility is mirrored by the interesting parallels between formal models of evolution and rational choice. The essays in this volume, by leading philosophers, economists, biologists and psychologists, explore the connection between evolution and rational choice in a number of different contexts, including choice under uncertainty, strategic decision making and pro-social behaviour. They will be of interest to students and researchers in philosophy of science, evolutionary biology, economics and psychology.
Robert Aumann argues that common knowledge of rationality implies backward induction in finite games of perfect information. I have argued that it does not. A literature now exists in which various formal arguments are offered in support of both positions. This paper argues that Aumann's claim can be justified if knowledge is suitably reinterpreted.
This article is my latest attempt to come up with a minimal version of my evolutionary theory of fairness, previously summarized in my book Natural Justice. The naturalism that I espouse is currently unpopular, but Figure 1 shows that the scientific tradition in moral philosophy nevertheless has a long and distinguished history. John Mackie's Inventing Right and Wrong is the most eloquent expression of the case for naturalism in modern times. Mackie's demolition of the claims made for a priori reasoning in moral philosophy seem unanswerable to me.
This paper is a comparative analysis of egalitarianism and utilitarianism from a naturalistic perspective that offers some insight into the manner in which we come to make interpersonal comparisons of welfare.
Game theory has proved a useful tool in the study of simple economic models. However, numerous foundational issues remain unresolved. The situation is particularly confusing in respect of the non-cooperative analysis of games with some dynamic structure in which the choice of one move or another during the play of the game may convey valuable information to the other players. Without pausing for breath, it is easy to name at least 10 rival equilibrium notions for which a serious case can be made that here is the “right” solution concept for such games.