Coming Soon:

The following books by Robert Paul Wolff are available on Amazon.com as e-books: KANT'S THEORY OF MENTAL ACTIVITY, THE AUTONOMY OF REASON, UNDERSTANDING MARX, UNDERSTANDING RAWLS, THE POVERTY OF LIBERALISM, A LIFE IN THE ACADEMY, MONEYBAGS MUST BE SO LUCKY, AN INTRODUCTION TO THE USE OF FORMAL METHODS IN POLITICAL PHILOSOPHY.
Now Available: Volumes I, II, III, and IV of the Collected Published and Unpublished Papers.

NOW AVAILABLE ON YOUTUBE: LECTURES ON KANT'S CRITIQUE OF PURE REASON. To view the lectures, go to YouTube and search for "Robert Paul Wolff Kant." There they will be.

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Tuesday, January 28, 2014

Things my grandmother neglected to tell me

One of the things I have learned on the long road to eighty is that if you do not blow your own horn you may not hear trumpets until you approach the Pearly Gates. Well , this morning I re-read the concluding chapter of my e -book on The Use and Abuse of Formal Models in Political Philosophy --  the chapter devoted to the so -called Prisoner's  Dilemma, and it is (Here come the trumpets) terrific.

So as soon as I am back on my computer next Monday I am going to re - post it as a stand alone blog post. Some of you may have read it but many have not and I honestly think it is really important.

Now, St Peter , about those imprudent expressions of atheism ....

2 comments:

Marinus Ferreira said...

You may remember I took you to task for that chapter, wherein I think you somewhat overstated the case against the prisoner's dilemma. In particular, you spent time talking about the things people wrongly learn from it, and moved blindly past the lessons that we should learn from it, which is that there are possible situations, especially ones involving multiple agents, where everybody following the practice of utility maximisation leads to a situation where everybody is worse off than one they could have gotten to differently. So, there the prisoner's dilemma illustrates a tension between utility maximisation and Pareto optimality.

You did at the time reply to my comments, but not in a lot of detail. I posted a reply to that, to which you didn't respond. In your reply you talked about how decision making under uncertainty, like in game theoretic cases, is a different beast than decision making under certainty, as in rational choice cases. Be this as it may, but this isn't a very impressive response. For one thing, the deep interest that people in rational choice theory has in Pareto optimality doesn't disappear when we discuss cases where there are the actions of multiple people to take into account. There are lots of examples of where Pareto optimality is an issue in strategic (i.e. multiagent) cases, as I'm sure you know; Sen talks about it all of the time, it plays a big role in Arrow's Impossibility Theorem, and so on. One striking example is in the definition of a 'feasible set' of outcomes that two or more agents could select from when making a bargain. So, while the decision under uncertainty of game-theoretic and other strategic cases is different from the decision under risk of rational choice theory, both Pareto optimality and utility maximisation are of the foremost interest in strategic cases. And the prisoner's dilemma shows that the two can come apart in alarming ways.

Robert Paul Wolff said...

That is too much for me to answer with one finger but I think you are fundamentally wrong to suppose that it is useful for people to operate with a misunderstanding of a two by two matrix simply because it is a supposed instance of a much larger class of cases whose analysis must be quite different. It mystifies me that people latch onto formal arguments as though they were mere facons de parler. Of you are going to use formal modes of analysis, then the first rule is to get them right.

Wait until I get home and can type with both fingers!