Jane Austen, Game Theorist

Jane Austen, Game Theorist

by Michael Suk-Young Chwe
Jane Austen, Game Theorist

Jane Austen, Game Theorist

by Michael Suk-Young Chwe


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How the works of Jane Austen show that game theory is present in all human behavior

Game theory—the study of how people make choices while interacting with others—is one of the most popular technical approaches in social science today. But as Michael Chwe reveals in his insightful new book, Jane Austen explored game theory's core ideas in her six novels roughly two hundred years ago. Jane Austen, Game Theorist shows how this beloved writer theorized choice and preferences, prized strategic thinking, argued that jointly strategizing with a partner is the surest foundation for intimacy, and analyzed why superiors are often strategically clueless about inferiors. With a diverse range of literature and folktales, this book illustrates the wide relevance of game theory and how, fundamentally, we are all strategic thinkers.

Although game theory's mathematical development began in the Cold War 1950s, Chwe finds that game theory has earlier subversive historical roots in Austen's novels and in "folk game theory" traditions, including African American folktales. Chwe makes the case that these literary forebears are game theory's true scientific predecessors. He considers how Austen in particular analyzed "cluelessness"—the conspicuous absence of strategic thinking—and how her sharp observations apply to a variety of situations, including U.S. military blunders in Iraq and Vietnam.

Jane Austen, Game Theorist brings together the study of literature and social science in an original and surprising way.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780691155760
Publisher: Princeton University Press
Publication date: 04/21/2013
Pages: 288
Product dimensions: 6.40(w) x 9.40(h) x 1.10(d)

About the Author

Michael Suk-Young Chwe is associate professor of political science at the University of California, Los Angeles, and the author of Rational Ritual: Culture, Coordination, and Common Knowledge (Princeton).

Table of Contents

Preface xi

Abbreviations xiii

CHAPTER ONE The Argument 1
CHAPTER TWO Game Theory in Context 9

  • Rational Choice Theory 9
  • Game Theory 12
  • Strategic Thinking 15
  • How Game Theory Is Useful 19
  • Criticisms 25
  • Game Theory and Literature 30

CHAPTER THREE Folktales and Civil Rights 35

CHAPTER FOUR Flossie and the Fox 43

CHAPTER FIVE Jane Austen's Six Novels 49
  • Pride and Prejudice 50
  • Sense and Sensibility 54
  • Persuasion 60
  • Northanger Abbey 67
  • Mansfield Park 75
  • Emma 86

CHAPTER SIX Austen's Foundations of Game Theory 97
  • Choice 97
  • Preferences 102
  • Revealed Preferences 105
  • Names for Strategic Thinking 107
  • Strategic Sophomores 111
  • Eyes 113

CHAPTER SEVEN Austen's Competing Models 115
  • Emotions 115
  • Instincts 119
  • Habits 121
  • Rules 124
  • Social Factors 127
  • Ideology 128
  • Intoxication 130
  • Constraints 130

CHAPTER EIGHT Austen on What Strategic Thinking Is Not 133
  • Strategic Thinking Is Not Selfish 133
  • Strategic Thinking Is Not Moralistic 134
  • Strategic Thinking Is Not Economistic 135
  • Strategic Thinking Is Not About Winning Inconsequential Games 137

CHAPTER NINE Austen's Innovations 141
  • Partners in Strategic Manipulation 141
  • Strategizing About Yourself 153
  • Preference Change 158
  • Constancy 167

CHAPTER TEN Austen on Strategic Thinking's Disadvantages 171

CHAPTER ELEVEN Austen's Intentions 179

CHAPTER TWELVE Austen on Cluelessness 188
  • Lack of Natural Ability 188
  • Social Distance 198
  • Excessive Self-Reference 200
  • High-Status People Are Not Supposed to Enter the Minds of Low-Status People 202
  • Presumption Sometimes Works 205
  • Decisive Blunders 205

CHAPTER THIRTEEN Real-World Cluelessness 211
  • Cluelessness Is Easier 211
  • Difficulty Embodying Low-Status Others 213
  • Investing in Social Status 217
  • Improving Your Bargaining Position 219
  • Empathy Prevention 224
  • Calling People Animals 225

CHAPTER FOURTEEN Concluding Remarks 228

References 235

Index 251

What People are Saying About This

From the Publisher

"Michael Chwe shows that Jane Austen is a strategic analyst—a game theorist whose characters exercise strategic thinking. Game theorists usually study war, business, crime and punishment, diplomacy, politics, and one-upmanship. Jane Austen studies social advancement, romantic relationships, and even gamesmanship. Game theorists will enjoy this venture into unfamiliar territory, while Jane Austen fans will enjoy being illuminated about their favorite author's strategic acumen—and learn a little game theory besides."—Thomas C. Schelling, Nobel Laureate in Economics

"Jane Austen's novels provide wonderful examples of strategic thinking in the lives of ordinary people. In Jane Austen, Game Theorist, Michael Chwe brilliantly brings out these strategies, and Austen's intuitive game-theoretic analysis of these situations and actions. This book will transform the way you read literature."—Avinash Dixit, coauthor of The Art of Strategy: A Game Theorist's Guide to Success in Business and Life

"Jane Austen, game theorist?! You will cry, how absurd! But you will be wrong. Michael Chwe's beautifully written and argued book makes the case, crushingly, that Our Jane was fascinated by human prudent interaction—what the game theorists call strategy. Based on deep familiarity with the novels and their scholarly literature, his book will instruct and delight both literary critics and economists. Combining the humanities and social sciences for mutual illumination, Chwe practices a 'humanomics' masterfully."—Deirdre N. McCloskey, University of Illinois, Chicago

"Whether you're an intelligent strategic thinker or a clueless bureaucrat, this book will teach and delight you. The merger of game theory and Jane Austen, with extended examples from African American folklore and U.S. foreign policy, provides the best study I know of motive and cluelessness. Michael Chwe, a rare breed of political scientist, has raised the game of two disciplines. This is a genuinely interdisciplinary work that avoids the reductionism of much game theory and the provincialism of many Austen admirers."—Regenia Gagnier, author of The Insatiability of Human Wants: Economics and Aesthetics in Market Society

"It would be useful for everyone to understand a little bit more about strategic thinking. Jane Austen seems not only to get this, but to explore it obsessively. Looking at Austen and other works, this persuasive book shows that the game theory in historical sources is not inherently opposed to humanistic thinking, but embedded within it."—Laura J. Rosenthal, University of Maryland

"Polished, organized, and well-documented, this book demonstrates the existence of well-defined game theory in historical texts. Jane Austen, in particular, develops a clear model of strategic thinking in her novels. Michael Chwe shows the efficacy and pitfalls of such thinking in her characters' actions, and in their perceptions and understanding of the actions of others. An enjoyable read."—Susan Skeath, coauthor of Games of Strategy

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