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Hobbes's State of Nature: A Modern Bayesian Game-Theoretic Analysis

Date and Time: 
Thursday, November 14, 2019. 04:15 PM - 06:00 PM
Meeting Location: 
Watt Dining Room
Workshop: 
Ethics and Politics, Ancient and Modern
Meeting Description: 

All EPAM sessions are pre-read. We will begin with a brief summary of the paper and comments by Alison McQueen, followed by a response from Hun Chung. Afterward, the floor will be open for questions.

Abstract: Hobbes’s own justification for the existence of governments relies on the assumption that, without a government, our lives in the state of nature would result in a state of war of every man against every man. Many contemporary scholars have tried to explain why universal war is unavoidable in Hobbes’s state of nature by utilizing modern game theory. However, most game-theoretic models that have been presented so far do not accurately capture what Hobbes deems to be the primary cause of conflict in the state of nature – which is uncertainty, rather than people’s egoistic psychology. Any game- theoretic model that does not incorporate uncertainty into the picture is, therefore, I claim, the wrong model. In this paper, I use Bayesian game-theory to show how universal conflict can break-out in the state of nature - even when the majority of the population would strictly prefer to cooperate and seek peace with other people - due to uncertainty about the other person’s type. Along the way, I show that the valuation of one’s own life is one of the central mechanisms that drives Hobbes’s pessimistic conclusion.

Hun Chung is an associate professor at the School of Political Science and Economics at Waseda University. He received his MA and first PhD in Philosophy (specializing in moral and political philosophy) at Cornell University in 2012. Then he received his MA and second PhD in political science (specializing in formal political theory and political philosophy) at the University of Rochester in 2017. He works at the intersection of political philosophy and formal theory (game/social choice theory). Specifically, he employs the formal tools of game and social choice theory to answer foundational questions in distributive justice, political/democratic legitimacy, political stability, liberal rights, and the history of political philosophy.

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