In all chapters one finds an overwhelming number of reasons why economists and social scientists in general should not neglect social personalized interactions in their attempts to explain social reality. In this sense, the book is an instructive introduction to one of the most relevant topics of economic theory in the coming years. On the negative side, the informed reader will find that some of the chapters are hardly up-to-date, especially the references to experimental works. But this is also proof that this is a field continuously developing new ideas and producing new results. In light of all this, it is clear that economics cannot afford to continue neglecting the human side of social relations. Five times shorter than its 1, page predecessor, Natural Justice preserves both the argument and the style of the main book, except that the author seems now determined to avoid digressions and to develop the main argument as linearly as possible.
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In all chapters one finds an overwhelming number of reasons why economists and social scientists in general should not neglect social personalized interactions in their attempts to explain social reality. In this sense, the book is an instructive introduction to one of the most relevant topics of economic theory in the coming years. On the negative side, the informed reader will find that some of the chapters are hardly up-to-date, especially the references to experimental works.
But this is also proof that this is a field continuously developing new ideas and producing new results. In light of all this, it is clear that economics cannot afford to continue neglecting the human side of social relations. Five times shorter than its 1, page predecessor, Natural Justice preserves both the argument and the style of the main book, except that the author seems now determined to avoid digressions and to develop the main argument as linearly as possible.
Some arguments have even been left out entirely, but Binmore usefully provides us with marginal notes referencing the relevant sections of the larger work. Natural Justice is extremely readable, making it ideal for a first- year graduate or upper-level undergraduate course, yet it still provides its readers with a wealth of tools to explore an evolutionary and naturalistic approach to justice, morality and ethics.
To study morality, one must provide scientific explanations for the questions of the origin and evolution of moral rules. Natural Justice consists of the application of such a scientific approach to the issues of justice and fairness. The science best suited to the task is the branch of economics that studies social, strategic interactions: game theory. For instance, Binmore suggests that there are analogies between our linguistic and our moral capabilities.
As we possess a genetically hardwired ability to acquire language, similarly we possess a genetically hardwired device for moral reasoning. In his model social indexes are not discovered in the informational vacuum of the original position, but rather are the commonly known yet ever shifting product of human cultural evolution.
To use again the analogy with linguistic theory: as the milieu in which we are reared determines the language we use, likewise cultural evolution shapes the content of our fairness norms.
Designing a utopian social contract would be pointless, since the contract would be unfeasible. Only after feasibility has been addressed can the sensible reformer tackle the question of optimality. A social contract, in such an evolutionary brand of contractarianism, cannot be but an equilibrium of the game of life, for otherwise it would not be stable with respect to internal pressures.
If stability is essential to the survival of a social contract, so is efficiency, since a society held together by a stable yet inefficient social contract would not be likely to compete successfully with other societies endorsing more efficient social contracts. Stability and efficiency, however, are not the only relevant dimensions for a game- theoretic study and understanding of social contracts.
The folk theorem of game theory shows that there exist a plethora of efficient equilibria in the game of life, and hence presents us with the problem of equilibrium selection.
The view summarized in the previous paragraph is offered in the first chapter of Natural Justice, while the second chapter provides a compact introduction to bargaining theory and to the concepts of Nash, utilitarian and egalitarian bargaining solutions, all of them perspicuously illustrated through geometrical examples.
The chapter dissects the notion of Nash equilibrium — the key notion to understanding the stability of social contracts. Chapter 5 introduces the theory of repeated games, and in particular the folk theorem — the key notion to understanding the efficiency of social contracts.
Hence, there exist a vast number of possible social contracts, a large subset of which are efficient. There are objections to the use of the folk theorem in this context. For instance, it would appear that, for the folk theorem to apply, it is necessary that the circumstances allow for perfect monitoring. Since fairness most likely first arose in relatively small groups of our hunter-gatherer ancestors, the assumption of perfect monitoring is not far-fetched after all.
For further criticism on the use of the folk theorem made by Binmore, cf. Gintis and, for rejoinders, Binmore The folk theorem offers the theoretical underpinnings for the idea of reciprocal altruism, and through it Binmore chapters 5 and 6 can recast notions such as right, duty, moral responsibility, etc.
Within Natural Justice, kin selection plays two roles. This suggests at the same time that it might have evolved outside of the family circle when close, yet unrelated, individuals were treated as if they were relatives.
To solve the problem of equilibrium selection, Binmore invokes the device of the original position — the key notion to understanding fairness in social contracts. The result of the bargaining process is the equilibrium profile that solves the strategic situation at hand.
The solution crystallizes into a convention, and conventions of this kind constitute the notion of fairness held by a society. Relative to this point, two important observations are in order.
First, for two agents to be able to bargain in the original position, they must be able to perform interpersonal comparisons of utility. The social indexes of the two agents, according to Binmore, evolve under the pressures of cultural evolution until they are at equilibrium and become common knowledge.
Second, Binmore still needs to offer an argument showing that we do in fact recur to such fictitious game of morals when we have to bargain a solution to some REVIEWS strategic interaction involved in our social contract. Bargaining in the original position terminates with the solution equilibrium to a specific interaction. The use of the veil of ignorance guarantees that the selected solution is considered fair by the parties, and becomes part of the social contract.
The question remains: which solution will be chosen? That is, which is the fair solution? Binmore argues that the answer to this question depends on the circumstances in which a society finds itself. In particular he shows that chapter 10 if there exists an authority that can enforce the outcome of the bargaining process, then the solution to the bargaining problem in the original position is utilitarian, in that the social indexes will be such that they maximize the sum of the weighted payoffs.
If chapter 11 no authority capable of enforcing the bargaining outcome is present, the solution to the bargaining problem must be self-sustaining; in this case, the social indexes in equilibrium will yield the egalitarian solution.
In fact, fairness norms are effective only in the short run — for example, when the set of feasible social contracts expands and a new equilibrium is reached by making use of the existing fairness norm. This insight leads naturally to the last chapter 12 of the book — about planned centralization and social reform.
Thus unfeasible social contracts should be ruled out, while possible and desirable ones should be pursued by making sure that agents have the right incentives to move from the current equilibrium to the desired one. Both aspects are likely to be contentious, especially to the philosophical readership. His idea of a social contract as the game-theoretic equilibrium of a repeated strategic interaction, as well as his identification of the state of nature and the status quo, are unorthodox.
Yet, they are important steps in a direction leading towards a naturalistic account of justice and of the social contract. My comments are articulated in the following four points. It is crucial that the original position be actually used albeit fictionally by the agents when adjudicating issues of fairness. The role of the original position ceases to be normative the a priori selection of criteria of justice and becomes descriptive the empirical selection of courses of action which are, as such, deemed fair in society.
At the same time, the justification of the original position has to shift from Rawlsian reflective equilibrium to a descriptive justification. The idea is that the original position device started off in our hunter-gatherer past as an insurance device.
Uncertain about future hunting outcomes, our ancestors hedged against the possibility of meager future hunts by sharing food from successful hunts. While the story is intriguing and plausible, the evidence brought to support it is not plentiful. This is a typical example of a claim defended at length in Game Theory and the Social Contract whose supportive argument disappears in Natural Justice.
But the claim is rather substantial. In fact, the idea that orthodox Bayesian decision theory rather than the maximin decision rule must apply in the original position appears to be due to a difference in the conception of the veil of ignorance.
In such a simple situation, as Binmore states p. The vulnerability objection. Animals, babies, the senile, and the mentally ill are only marginally less helpless, and hence equally unable to take on duties. To be sure, Natural Justice presents an example cf. The model is however an extremely simplified one.
Behavioral economics and rationality. This solution provides a description, rather than an explication of the phenomenon. How are we to reconcile the empirically observed discrepancy between human behavior and rational behavior, on the one hand, and a theory that purports to be empirical but relies on an idealized notion of rationality?
The answer is that an agent walks into the laboratory bringing along a web of social habits, norms and convention. Such habits of fairness select equilibrium behavior in the real-life equivalents of the laboratory settings, but such behavior need not be an equilibrium of the game played in the laboratory. Binmore claims that, provided that they have enough time and incentives, agents will learn to act rationally, and he suggests that interesting research is to be done relative to such dynamics.
Yet, it might be not easy to extricate oneself from such habits for a thorough analysis of such habits of the mind and their importance for an account of social norms, cf. Bicchieri Common knowledge. My main disagreement with Binmore concerns the role that common knowledge plays in conventions and, by extension, in his naturalistic theory of justice.
Binmore , and Sillari On this very topic, there seems to be an element of discrepancy between Game theory and the Social Contract and the recent book. In Natural Justice, common knowledge seems to have lost the role of necessary assumption in the equilibrium selection problem, although no argument is provided to explain this apparent change in view. Possibly the most important of such developments is the extension of bargaining in the original position to more than two players.
This should be obtained by introducing the possibility of coalition formation cf. The grammar of society. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
Binmore, K. Game theory and the social contract. Playing fair. Boston: MIT Press. Just playing. Why do people cooperate?
Philosophy, Politics and Economics 5 1 : 81— Do conventions need to be common knowledge? Forthcoming in Topoi. Freeman, S. London: Routledge. Gintis, H. Behavioral ethics meets natural justice. Philosophy, Politics and Economics 5 1 : 5—
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Ken Binmore Abstract This book attempts to create an evolutionary theory of fairness. Sharing food is commonplace in the animal kingdom because it insures animals that share against hunger. Anthropologists report that hunter-gatherer societies which survived into the 20th century shared on a very egalitarian basis. What can such information tell us about the sense of fairness with which modern man is born? Using game theory as a basic tool, the book argues that fairness norms should be seen as a device for selecting an efficient equilibrium in the human game of life.