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Ken Binmore

Ken Binmore is Emeritus Professor at University College London. A Fellow of the Econometric Society and the British Academy, he is the author of Game Theory and the Social Contract, Volume 1: Playing Fair (1994) and Volume 2: Just Playing (1998), and the coeditor of Frontiers of Game Theory (1993), all three published by The MIT Press.

Titles by This Author

This volume brings together all of Ken Binmore's influential experimental papers on bargaining along with newly written commentary in which Binmore discusses the underlying game theory and addresses the criticism leveled at it by behavioral economists.

When Binmore began his experimental work in the 1980s, conventional wisdom held that game theory would not work in the laboratory, but Binmore and other pioneers established that game theory can often predict the behavior of experienced players very well in favorable laboratory settings. The case of human bargaining behavior is particularly challenging for game theory. Everyone agrees that human behavior in real-life bargaining situations is governed at least partly by considerations of fairness, but what happens in a laboratory when such fairness considerations supposedly conflict with game-theoretic predictions? Behavioral economists, who emphasize the importance of other-regarding or social preferences, sometimes argue that their findings threaten traditional game theory. Binmore disputes both their interpretations of their findings and their claims about what game theorists think it reasonable to predict.

Binmore's findings from two decades of game theory experiments have made a lasting contribution to economics. These papers—some coauthored with other leading economists, including Larry Samuelson, Avner Shaked, and John Sutton—show that game theory does indeed work in favorable laboratory environments, even in the challenging case of bargaining.

Just Playing


In Volume 1 of Game Theory and the Social Contract, Ken Binmore restated the problems of moral and political philosophy in the language of game theory. In Volume 2, Just Playing, he unveils his own controversial theory, which abandons the metaphysics of Immanuel Kant for the naturalistic approach to morality of David Hume. According to this viewpoint, a fairness norm is a convention that evolved to coordinate behavior on an equilibrium of a society's Game of Life. This approach allows Binmore to mount an evolutionary defense of Rawls's original position that escapes the utilitarian conclusions that follow when orthodox reasoning is applied with the traditional assumptions. Using ideas borrowed from the theory of bargaining and repeated games, Binmore is led instead to a form of egalitarianism that vindicates the intuitions that led Rawls to write his Theory of Justice.

Written for an interdisciplinary audience, Just Playing offers a panoramic tour through a range of new and disturbing insights that game theory brings to anthropology, biology, economics, philosophy, and psychology. It is essential reading for anyone who thinks it likely that ethics evolved along with the human species.


Playing Fair

In Game Theory and the Social Contract, Ken Binmore argues that game theory provides a systematic tool for investigating ethical matters. His reinterpretation of classical social contract ideas within a game-theoretic framework generates new insights into the fundamental questions of social philosophy. He clears the way for this ambitious endeavor by first focusing on foundational issues—paying particular attention to the failings of recent attempts to import game—theoretic ideas into social and political philosophy.

Binmore shows how ideas drawn from the classic expositions of Harsanyi and Rawls produce a synthesis that is consistent with the modern theory of noncooperative games. In the process, he notes logical weaknesses in other analyses of social cooperation and coordination, such as those offered by Rousseau, Kant, Gauthier, and Nozick. He persuasively argues that much of the current literature elaborates a faulty analysis of an irrelevant game.

Game Theory and the Social Contract makes game-theoretic ideas more widely accessible to those with only a limited knowledge of the field. Instructional material is woven into the narrative, which is illustrated with many simple examples, and the mathematical content has been reduced to a minimum.

Titles by This Editor

These seventeen contributions take up the most recent research in game theory, reflecting the many diverse approaches in the field today. They are classified in five general tactical categories - prediction, explanation, investigation, description, and prescription - and wit in these along applied and theoretical divisions. The introduction clearly lays out this framework.

Ken Binmore is Professor of Economics at the University of Michigan, Alan Kirman is Professor of Economics at European University Institute, and Piero Tani is Dean of the Faculty at the University of Florence.

Contents: Famous Gamesters, Ken Binmore, Alan Kirman, and Piero Tani. Cognition and Framing in Sequential Bargaining for Gains and Losses, Cohn F. Camerer, Eric J. Johnson, Talia Rymon, Sankar Sen. Explaining the Vote: Constituency Constraints on Sophisticated Voting, David Austen Smith. The Dynamics of Learning in N-Person Games with the Wrong N, Vincent Brousseau and Alan Kirman. Stationary Equilibria for Deterministic Graphical Games, Steve Alpern. Stable Coalition Structures in Consecutive Games, Joseph Greenberg and Shlomo Weber. The General Nucleolus and the Reduced Game Property, Michael Maschler, Jos Potters, Stef Tijs. Some Thoughts on Efficiency and Information, Françoise Forges. On the Fair and Coalitionstrategyproof Allocation of Private Goods, Hervé Moulin. From Repeated to Differential Games: How Time and Uncertainty Pervade the Theory of Games, Alain Haurie. Unraveling in Games of Sharing and Exchange, Steven J. Brams, D. Marc Kilgour, Morton D. Davis. Does Evolution Eliminate Dominated Strategies? Larry Samuelson. Equilibrium Selection in Stag Hunt Games, Hans Carlsson and Eric van Damme. Variable Universe Games, Michael Bacharach. Aspects of Rationalizable Behavior, Peter J. Hammond. Normative Validity and Meaning of von Neumann-Morgenstern Utilities, John C. Harsanyi. DeBayesing Game Theory, Ken Binmore.