“We are all players in the game of life, with divergent aims and aspirations that make conflict inevitable. In a healthy society, a balance between all these differing aims and aspirations is achieved so that the benefits of cooperation are not entirely lost in internecine strife. Game theorists call such a balance an equilibrium. Sustain such equilibria requires the existence of commonly understood conventions about how behaviour is to be coordinated. It is such a system of coordinating conventions that I shall identify with a social contract.”
– Ken Binmore, Game Theory and the Social Contract, Volume 1: Playing Fair, 1996, p6
And there you have it. One of the most straight-forward articulations (assuming if you understand the concept of ‘equilibrium’) of what a social contract is and why we might want one, and it appears but six pages in to Binmore’s epic two volume series on game theory and the social contract. I’m going to enjoy reading this.
But Binmore has other tidy revelations in the following pages, such as that the Left is often misguided because it proposes contracts that break through ‘feasibility constraints’, and as a result, proposes utopias that are inherently unstable.
The Right, on the other hand, values a nice stable equilibrium so much that it clings to yesterday’s contract and resists change that might bring about an improved contract – often resisting it to the point where the only possibility of change becomes revolutionary change.
A final tid bit – of particular pertinence to politicians – is that one ought to always consider the feasible before considering the optimal. Another way of putting this is to say that, prior to criticising the status quo, one ought to consider the next best feasible option, and if it’s worse than the status quo, then one ought to reconsider one’s criticism.
We need more game theorists contributing to philosophy, IMO.