Game Theory and the Humanities: Bridging Two Worlds

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Game theory models are ubiquitous in economics, common in political science, and increasingly used in psychology and sociology; in evolutionary biology,they offer compelling explanations for competition in nature. But game theory has been only sporadically applied to the humanities; indeed, we almost never associate mathematical calculations of strategic choice with the worlds of literature,history, and philosophy. And yet, as Steven Brams shows, game theory can illuminate the rational choices made by characters in texts ranging from the Bible to Joseph Heller's Catch-22 and can explicate strategic questions in law,history, and philosophy. Much of Brams's analysis is based on the theory of moves (TOM), which is grounded in game theory, and which he develops gradually and applies systematically throughout. TOM illuminates the dynamics of player choices, including their misperceptions, deceptions, and uses of different kinds of power.

Brams examines such topics as the outcome and payoff matrix of Pascal's wager on the existence of God; the strategic games played by presidents and Supreme Court justices; and how information was slowly uncovered in the game played by Hamlet and Claudius. The reader gains not just new insights into the actions of certain literary and historical characters but also a larger strategic perspective on the choices that make us human.

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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
"This is a wonderful book, deserving to be used as a basic reference for students in the humanities, but also of interest to any intellectual eager to understand how today's culture is transgressing old dichotomies such as Blasie Pascal's esprit de géométrie — esprit de finesse and C.P.Snow's two cultures. — Solomon Marcus,Mathematical Reviews
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780262518253
  • Publisher: MIT Press
  • Publication date: 8/31/2012
  • Pages: 336
  • Sales rank: 1,477,654
  • Product dimensions: 5.90 (w) x 8.90 (h) x 0.70 (d)

Meet the Author

Steven J. Brams is Professor of Politics at New York University. He is the author of Biblical Games: Game Theory and the Hebrew Bible (revised edition, MIT Press) and other books.

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Table of Contents

Preface ix

Acknowledgments xiii

1 Game Theory and Literature: An Overview 1

1.1 Introduction 1

1.2 Method of Inquiry 4

1.3 Avoidance and Acceptance of the Minimax Theorem 5

1.4 Are Zero-Sum Games Emotionless? 11

1.5 The Rationality of Tragedy 13

1.6 Coordination Problems, Signaling, and Commitment 16

1.7 The Devil and God 19

1.8 Reputation and Intrapsychic Games 21

1.9 Wherein Lies the Future? 24

2 TheBible: Sacrifice and Unrequited Love 29

2.1 Introduction 29

2.2 Abraham's Sacrifice 31

2.3 What If Abraham Had Refused to Sacrifice Isaac? 42

2.4 Samson and Delilah 50

2.5 Theory of Moves (TOM) 57

2.6 Emotions, Feasible Moves, and Morality 65

3 Theology: Is It Rational to Believe in God? 69

3.1 Introduction 69

3.2 Pascal's Wager and the Search Decision 72

3.3 The Concern Decision 77

3.4 The Revelation Game 81

3.5 Decisions versus Games 91

4 Philosophy: Paradoxes of Fair Division 93

4.1 Introduction 93

4.2 Criteria and Classification 95

4.3 Efficiency and Envy-Freeness: They May Be Incompatible 97

4.4 Unique Efficient and Envy-Free Divisions: Their Incompatibility with Other Criteria 100

4.5 The Desirability of Unequal Divisions (Sometimes) 102

4.6 Summary and Conclusions 108

5 Political Philosophy: How Democracy Resolves Conflict in Difficult Games 111

5.1 Introduction 111

5.2 Resolution by Voting in a 2-Person PD 113

5.3 Resolution by Voting in an n-Person PD 115

5.4 Example of an n-Person PD 117

5.5 A Biblical Tale 119

5.6 Other Difficult Games 121

5.7 Summary and Conclusions 125

6 Law: Supreme Court Challenges and Jury Selection 127

6.1 Introduction 127

6.2 The White House Tapes Case 128

6.3 Analysis of the White House Tapes Game 136

6.4 The Roosevelt Court and the New Deal 140

6.5 Jury Selection 146

6.6 Summary and Conclusions 152

7 Plays: Modeling Frustration and Anger 155

7.1 Introduction 155

7.2 The Frustration Game 159

7.3 Lysistrata: Overcoming Frustration with a Credible Threat 165

7.4 The Self-Frustration Game 170

7.5 Macbeth: From Self-Frustration to Murder 175

7.6 Summary and Conclusions 180

8 History: Magnanimity after Wars 185

8.1 Introduction 185

8.2 The Two-Sidedness Convention 187

8.3 Different Views on the Rationality of Magnanimity after Wars 190

8.4 The Magnanimity Game (MG) 191

8.5 Applications of MG to Historical Cases 197

8.6 Why Did the Confederacy Initiate the U.S. Civil War? 201

8.7 Summary and Conclusions 207

9 Incomplete Information in Literature and History 209

9.1 Introduction 209

9.2 Information Revelation in Hamlet 211

9.3 Incomplete Information in the Magnanimity Game (MG) 217

9.4 Misperception in the Iran Hostage Crisis 219

9.5 The Cuban Missile Crisis: Moving, Order, and Threat Power 226

9.6 Deception in the Cuban Missile Crisis 236

9.7 The Paradox of Omniscience 240

9.8 Summary and Conclusions 244

10 Catch-22s in Literature and History 247

10.1 Introduction 247

10.2 TOM: Cyclic Games 250

10.3 Moving Power in TOM 253

10.4 The Original Catch-22 Game and the Generic Game 256

10.5 The Witch Trials 263

10.6 King-of-the-Mountain Games 268

10.7 Summary and Conclusions 270

11 Summary and Conclusions 275

Appendix 281

Glossary 287

References 295

Index 311

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