The End of the World: The Science and Ethics of Human Extinction

By John Leslie | Go to book overview

7

PRISONER’S DILEMMA AND NUCLEAR REVENGE

To give the human race much chance of survival, considerable co-operation may be needed. When dealing with selfish people, one way of encouraging co-operation is to point to the benefits they could expect from it. Another is to use threats. Both ways involve problems in decision theory, perhaps best illustrated by the case of trying to prevent nuclear war. (This will be a very brief chapter, avoiding a host of technicalities.) 1

Suppose two nations seem to be moving towards nuclear war. Each might see much reason to strike first, so as to destroy many enemy missiles before they could be launched.

A ground for not striking first is the hope of remaining in the situation in which no nuclear bombs are exploded by anyone. Yet this can raise ‘prisoner’s dilemma’ problems.

A ground for not striking second is that one’s nation may have been so nearly annihilated that there remain no benefits to be had by striking. This raises problems of whether it can be right to carry out acts of revenge.


NOT STRIKING FIRST: CO-OPERATION AND PRISONER’S DILEMMA

Say that two superpowers—call them Oceania and Eurasia—have constructed huge nuclear arsenals. For the two of them taken

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The End of the World: The Science and Ethics of Human Extinction
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Title Page v
  • Contents vii
  • Acknowledgments viii
  • Preface to the Paperback Edition x
  • Introduction 1
  • 1 - War, Pollution, Disease 25
  • 2 - Other Dangers 81
  • 3 - Judging the Risks 133
  • 4 - Why Prolong Human History? 155
  • 5 - The Doomsday Argument 187
  • 6 - Testing the Argument 237
  • 7 - Prisoner’s Dilemma and Nuclear Revenge 267
  • Notes 276
  • Bibliography 289
  • Index 306
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