The ambitious claim that game theory will provide a unified foundation for all social science seems misplaced to us. There is a variety of problems with such a claim which we have discussed in this book. Some are associated with the assumptions of the theory (for instance, that agents are instrumentally motivated and that they have common knowledge of rationality), some come from the inferences which are often drawn from these assumptions (as when it is assumed that common knowledge delivers consistently aligned beliefs) and yet others come from the failure (even once the controversial assumptions and the inferences are in place) to generate determinate predictions of what ‘rational’ agents would, or should, do in important social interactions.
At root we suspect that the major problem is the one that the experiments in the last chapter isolate: namely, that people appear to be more complexly motivated than game theory’s instrumental model allows and that a part of that greater complexity comes from their social location.
We do not regard this as a negative conclusion. Quite the contrary, it stands as a challenge to the type of methodological individualism which has had a free rein in the development of game theory. Either this greater complexity and its social dimension must be coherently incorporated in an individualistic framework, or the methodological foundations will have to shift away from individualism.
Along the way to this conclusion, we hope also that you have had fun. Prisoners’ dilemmas and centipedes are great party tricks. They are easy to demonstrate and they are amenable to solutions which are paradoxical enough to stimulate controversy and, with one leap of the liberal imagination, the audience can be astounded by the thought that the fabric of society (even the existence of the State) reduces to these seemingly trivial games—Fun and Games, as the title of Binmore’s (1992) text on game theory neatly puts it. But there is a serious side to all this. Game theory is, indeed, well placed to examine the arguments in liberal political theory over the origin and the scope of agencies for social choice like the State. In this context, the problems which we have identified with game theory resurface as timely warnings of the difficulties any society is liable to face if it thinks of itself only in terms of liberal individualism.
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Publication information: Book title: Game Theory:A Critical Introduction. Contributors: Shaun P. Hargreaves Heap - Author, Yanis Varoufakis - Author. Publisher: Routledge. Place of publication: New York. Publication year: 1995. Page number: 260.
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