Re: Game theory and morality

From: Jef Allbright (
Date: Wed Apr 26 2006 - 13:30:15 MDT

On 4/26/06, Mikko Särelä <> wrote:

> I assume you are familiar with game theory from the way you write. Have
> you read the things that exist in the intersection of morality and game
> theory, such as David Gauthier? The following link might provide some
> useful stuff for you.

Thanks! I hadn't seen this before. Appears very relevant.

My introduction to game theory was about 1983 with an article in
Scientific American on the Prisoners' Dilemma. I don't remember
whether that was the article written by Douglas Hofstader, [Google
confirms it is.] but I was already a huge fan of his upon reading
Godel Escher Bach in 1979. Since then I've read extensively work by
Axelrod, some work by Von Neuman and some commentary by Bertrand
Russel, and various updates on PD competitions with strategies that
surpass the original tit for tat by enlarging the scope.

The 1983 Sci Am article really set me to thinking about how apparently
rational strategies can easily be seen to be irrational in a larger
context, and it was about then that I came to the realization that all
paradox is a matter of insufficient context, given my belief (and
observation) that in the bigger picture all the pieces must fit.

I highly value Hofstadter's concept of "superrationality" but have
found little resonance with others on this point.

> Some other things that might be of interest include Karl Popper and then
> David Deutsch. If you haven't read the latter's Fabric of Reality, you
> might find it interesting. It probably doesn't contain a lot of new stuff
> for you, but it does put things together in a fresh and interesting way.

I'm quite familiar with Popper's work, but only went as far with
Deutch as to read others' comments and discussions of his book _Fabric
of Reality_. I'll reconsider taking a deeper look at it.

> I've been working through a lot of game theory and morality stuff in my
> past and have found that an approach that is very good for understanding
> things.
> As you might know, there are people who believe that moral systems
> cannot be distinguished, because value propositions are claimed to be such
> that no natural thing that happens can justify, or refute them. This
> actually does not hold, if we require a moral system to describe both
> values (goals) and the means to get there.

Or, if we consider how we got here with the morals that we have.

> One of the simple rules that David once suggested for determining goodness
> of such a moral system is to determine whether it succeeds by its own
> lights, i.e. do the means accomplish the ends that the moral system
> advocates. Note that this is a necessary, but not sufficient condition for
> a good moral system. We should be able to develop other good ways of
> critisizing moral systems and thus evolve our knowledge.

Yes, that it works is necessary, but not sufficient.

Thanks Mikko for your pointers on this.

- Jef

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