Thomas Hobbes and the Political Philosophy of Glory

By Gabriella Slomp | Go to book overview

Chapter 10
The Rational Actor at Play

Introduction
In Thucydides' History, as translated by Hobbes, we find what is quite possibly the earliest statement of the so-called prisoner's dilemma:

Everyone supposeth, that his own neglect of the common estate can do little hurt, and that it will be the care of somebody else to look to that for his own good: not observing how by these thoughts of every one in several, the common business is jointly ruined ( History (EW VIII), 147).

Mysteriously, game theorists never mention the above passage showing that although game theory was yet to be born, Hobbes had been exposed to some of its key constructs.The publication of Gauthier's The Logic of Leviathan and of Watkins' 'Imperfect Rationality' marked the beginning of a whole literature that applies criteria and concepts drawn from the armoury of game theory to Hobbes's works in general and to the Leviathan in particular. Many Hobbesian readers have found the approach disagreeable and felt that they could get a better insight into Hobbes's theory through Oakeshott's kaleidoscope than by wearing the perfectly graded non-scratch lenses manufactured by game theorists. In a passionate attack against Gauthier, Taylor, McLean, Kavka, and Hampton, Patrick Neal voiced the opinion of many when he wrote that 'rational choice theory reaps a good less than Hobbes attempted to sow and serves to obscure more than to illuminate his teaching'. 1The aim of this chapter is to outline both the achievements and the limitations of the game-theoretic approach to Hobbes's political theory. On the positive side, rational-choice theorists can rightly claim to have shown conclusively that:
i. the Hobbesian state of nature can but be a state of war;
ii. there is no escape from Hobbes's state of anarchy (from a rational-actor perspective).

This is no small achievement. However, the rational-actor account does not explain how Hobbesian individuals can leave the state of

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