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Economic Theories on Hobbes - Dictionary of Arguments

Gaus I 107
Hobbes/economic theories/Gaus: (...) the liberalization of Hobbes has been driven by his contractualism, and the way in which it lends itself to game-theoretic modelling, mostimportantly in the work of Jean Hampton (1986(1); for a discussion see Kraus, 1993(2)). >Contractualism/Gauthier.
(...) the starting point of neoHobbesian theory is a hypothetical analysis of the nature of unstructured interaction among rational individuals who are devoted to maximizing their preferences (Kavka, 1986: 123–4). There is some debate as to whether Hobbesian accounts suppose predominant egoism (Kavka, 1986(3): 64) or simply non-tuistic preference maximization (Gaus, 1999(4): 12, 74; Wicksteed, 1946(5): vol. 1, 180). In such a situation, individuals will confront prisoner’s dilemmas, games of chicken and assurance games (Mueller, 2003(6): ch. 2; Skyrms, 1996(7)); they will generally be unable to secure co-operation, and so the interests of all will suffer. Thus Hobbesian agents have reasons, based on the satisfaction of their own preferences, to agree to rules that structure their interactions and, in particular, that allow them to escape the prisoner’s dilemmas in which they find themselves. Hobbesian contracts confront three main problems (Gaus, 1999; ch. 5; see also Kraus, 1993(2)).
Problems:
1) First, given that life in the state of nature – the condition of unstructured interaction – is ‘nasty, brutish and short’ (Hobbes, 1948: ch. 13), it will be relatively easy to show that some agreement is better than no agreement. However, there are likely to be a large number of social contracts that are
Gaus i 108
Pareto-optimal: all are better than the state of nature, but none is Pareto-superior to the others. Some contracts will be preferred by some parties, different ones by others. Thus the Hobbesian contract may be indeterminate; if so, then it is doubtful whether it can be seen as a strong justification of substantively liberal principles.
2) Second, given that Hobbesian individuals are single-minded rational maximizers, it seems that they would cheat on any social contract if they would benefit by cheating and their cheating will go undetected. But knowing this is the case, each knows the social contract would not bind anyone to sacrifice their interests, so there is no point in agreeing to it. >Hobbes/Buchanan, >Contractualism/Gauthier.


1. Hampton, Jean (1986) Hobbes and the Social Contract Tradition. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
2. Kraus, Jody S. (1993) The Limits of Hobbesian Contractualism. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
3. Kavka, Gregory (1986) Hobbesian Moral and Political Theory. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press.
4. Gaus, Gerald F. (1999) Social Philosophy. Armonk, NY: Sharpe.
5. Wicksteed, Philip H. (1946) The Commonsense of Political Economy, ed. Lionel Robbins. London: Routledge.
6. Mueller, Dennis C. (2003) Public Choice III. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
7. Skyrms, Brian (1996) The Evolution of the Social Contract. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.


Gaus, Gerald F. 2004. „The Diversity of Comprehensive Liberalisms.“ In: Gaus, Gerald F. & Kukathas, Chandran 2004. Handbook of Political Theory. SAGE Publications.


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Explanation of symbols: Roman numerals indicate the source, arabic numerals indicate the page number. The corresponding books are indicated on the right hand side. ((s)…): Comment by the sender of the contribution. Translations: Dictionary of Arguments
The note [Author1]Vs[Author2] or [Author]Vs[term] is an addition from the Dictionary of Arguments. If a German edition is specified, the page numbers refer to this edition.
Economic Theories
Gaus I
Gerald F. Gaus
Chandran Kukathas
Handbook of Political Theory London 2004


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