Sociology: Prisoner’s Dilemma and Social Contract Theory

In game theory, the prisoner’s dilemma is a non-zero-sum game in which players seek to profit by cooperating or betraying each other. As in all game theory, it assumes that the player maximizes his gain without concern for the benefit of others. In a dilemma, betrayal strictly dominates cooperation, so the only possible equilibrium is the betrayal of both participants. That is, no matter what the other player does, each wins more if he cheats. Dealing separately rationally, together the participants arrive at an irrational decision: if both betray, they will get less gain in total than if they had cooperated (Powers, 2019). The natural condition of men is characterized in Hobbes’ theory as the ability of some men to prevent other individuals from achieving their plans. This condition of persons capable of setting goals for themselves and acting to reach them leads to the natural state of latent warfare among all human beings (Verschoor, 2018). Thus, the prisoner dilemma is a modern extension of Hobbes’ theory. Accordingly, to achieve successful objectives, people can wage covert warfare in various ways against other individuals.

A criticism of the contract theory is granting too much power to the supreme authority. That is, when society provides the government with the mandate to make laws for the common good, there is the potential for abuse of power. Thus, authorities can use the law to create fear of the natural state and force individuals to comply with them, even if they would not democratic. At the same time, there is also an opinion that Hobbes’ theory of the social contract does not describe the origin of the state (Verschoor, 2018). That is, there is no evidence and facts that can confirm the truthfulness of this theory; accordingly, Hobbes contributed only absolutism to political philosophy.

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References

Powers, R. (2019). Prisoner’s dilemma. Atlantic books.

Verschoor, M. (2018). The democratic boundary problem and social contract theory. European Journal of Political Theory, 17(1), 3-22.

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