Re: Ethics

Joe Jenkins (
Tue, 14 Jul 1998 12:44:30 -0700 (PDT)

---Daniel Fabulich <> wrote:

> Er, no. I was referring to the Prisoner's Dilemma, a classic game
> the perpective of game theory and an interesting situation from the
> perpective of rational philosophy.


Communications breakdown, sorry, I didn't mean to cause you to explain the basics of the Prisoners' Dilemma. I usually use the term "cooperate" in place of your "keep silent" term especially when comparing to "defect". This is probably because I tend not to think in terms of the original example that gave title to the Prisoners' Dilemma. The original author could have given a little more thought to that example and used something more appropriate like birds picking fleas off each other or something IMHO.

We both agree that the best known strategy for iterated Prisoners Dilemma is "tit for tat" for both egoism and utilitarianism. I know Prisoners Dilemma is a well developed field of study and we both agree it can be a useful tool for evaluating ethics philosophies. Although, I never understood what Richard Dawkins was getting at in "The Selfish Gene" when he commented that he does not advocate the use of Prisoners Dilemma to develop a system of ethics. Maybe he was referring to the mismatch with a lot of real word situations. Anyway, if ethics is to be rational, IMHO game theoretics allows a more critical evaluation than any other I know of. We must have a leg to stand on even if it is a little shaky. Thats why its still a philosophy.

You have stated that non-iterated Prisoners dilemma does not render evolutionarily stable systems. Intuitively, this does not play well between my ears. But even if so (assuming you've seen the results of some computer simulation), again intuitively, would not some strategies be better than others in this game. I would bet on a "tit for tat" strategy before going all out with "always cooperate" (utilitarianism) or "always defect" (egoism) even if I'm non-rationally "tit"ing this guy because that other guy "tat"ed me. I can see "always cooperate" as the best strategy only in utopia which we both agree does not exist. Oh logic where have I failed thee.

Even if I'm right, our only disagreement could be that utilitarianism evokes the "always cooperate" strategy in non-iterated prisoners dilemma. Maybe then we find that egoism and utilitarianism evokes the same strategy for iterated and non-iterated versions of the game. If so, maybe this is what Dawkins warned us about. This would leave us the exercise of finding a version of game theoretics that evokes a different strategy for egoism and utilitarianism. If it cant be found, maybe this implies as I originally suspected, that utilitarianism depends on pockets of egoism and they both work together to form an evolutionarily stable system.

Joe Jenkins

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