I. COURSE GOALS: Probably the most dramatic development in descriptive and normative social theory in this century has been the development of a formal theory of strategic rationality (game theory) and its application to descriptive and normative social theory. This course focuses on the application of non-cooperative game theory to the social sciences to show both the fruitfulness and the limitations of the theory. The course provides an introduction to the important concepts of non-cooperative game theory and then explores some of the most important developments in the application of game theory to social explanation, with particular attention to explaining collective action. The course critically evaluates two different roles for game theory in the social sciences: (1) as a framework for methodological individualism; (2) as a framework for understanding the evolution of social attitudes and social institutions, and, ultimately, of a society's conception of rationality itself. In this course, you will master the important concepts of game theory, without the usual attendant mathematical complexity. No familiarity with game theory is presupposed, and no mathematics beyond elementary algebra is required.


1. CLASS PREPARATION AND ATTENDANCE. The class meets MWF at 12:30 p.m., EXCEPT ON MON., JAN. 16 (M.L. KING, JR. HOLIDAY) AND MON., FEB. 20 (PRESIDENTS' DAY HOLIDAY). Everyone is expected to do the assigned readings in advance and to attend and to participate in the discussion. The reading assignments appear at the end of this syllabus.


There will be questions on the exams that cannot be answered adequately from the readings alone.

2. WRITTEN ANSWERS TO IN-CLASS QUESTIONS. At the end of each class except Friday, Feb. 6 (the day of the Midterm Exam), you will be asked to turn in a brief written answer to a question based on the day's reading assignment and discussion. Each of these answers is worth 5 points, for a total of 140 points during the quarter (including 5 points for the email assignment described below). If you ever receive less than 3 out of 5 points on an end-of-class question, you may submit a revised answer to raise your grade to 3 points. Revised answers may be turned in at any time before the Final Exam. Students who are absent cannot make up these assignments, unless the absence is excused.

3. HOMEWORK AND FINAL PROJECT. There will be regular homework assignments (approximately once per week during the first half of the course, intermittently thereafter), and a larger Final Project due at the last class meeting, Mar. 13. The homework assignments will be worth 100 points and the Final Project will be worth 100 points. NOTE THAT TO OBTAIN CREDIT FOR A HOMEWORK ASSIGNMENT, YOU MUST ATTEND CLASS ON THE DAY IT IS DUE, PREPARED TO DISCUSS IT, AND THEN TURN IT IN AT THE END OF CLASS, UNLESS THE ABSENCE IS EXCUSED. LATE ASSIGNMENTS CAN EARN UP TO 50% CREDIT, SO YOU SHOULD TURN IN ALL ASSIGNMENTS, EVEN IF THEY ARE LATE. IF YOU EARN LESS THAN 50% ON ANY ASSIGNMENT, YOU MAY REDO IT AND TURN IT IN FOR 50% CREDIT.

NOTE: Because the class attracts students with a variety of backgrounds, some students will have more difficulty with the homework assignments than others. I hope to be able to schedule an optional weekly review session that will be open to all, but strongly recommended for those who have problems with the homework or who have other questions about the discussion in class.

4. EXAMS. (a) Midterm Exam. There will be a Midterm Exam (worth 150 points) in class on Friday., Feb. 6. A list of potential exam questions will be distributed in class on the preceding Friday, Jan. 30.

(b) Final Exam. There will be a Final Exam (worth 150 points) on Thurs., Mar. 19 at 8:30 a.m. in Savery 245. A list of potential exam questions will be distributed in class on Wed., Mar. 11.

NOTE: To assist your preparation, before each exam a comprehensive list of potential exam questions will be handed out in class. The actual exam questions will be selected from the list. Please bring a pen and blank blue books with no pages missing to the exams. Final Exams will be available for pick-up from me during the first week of Spring Quarter. If you would like your Final Exam mailed to you, please provide me a stamped, self-addressed envelope to be used for mailing.

5. TERM PAPER OPTION. With my permission a term paper (10-15 pages) may be substituted for the Final Exam. All term papers must be discussed with me and approved by me on or before March 1. Term papers are due at the Philosophy Department Office, Savery 345, by 4:30 p.m. on Wed., Mar. 18. Anyone who does not turn in a term paper by that time should take the Final Exam on Thurs., Mar. 19, unless an extension of time has been obtained.

6. EMAIL ACCOUNTS. All students are required to have electronic mail accounts. Your first assignment (worth 5 points) is to send me an email message (email address: wtalbott) with your name, student ID number, email address, and a brief statement of your background in philosophy. If you do not have an email account, the people in the Computing Resource Center, Room 102 of Suzallo Library can show you how to set one up and can show you how to use it. I will use email to broadcast general course announcements, so you should check your email at least weekly.

III. EXTENSIONS OF TIME. Extensions of time should be requested in advance of the deadline. Unexcused, late work will be penalized. I DO NOT INTEND TO GRANT ANY INCOMPLETES, EXCEPT IN CASES OF GENUINE EMERGENCIES.

IV. GRADES. Grades will be based on total points (out of a total possible of 640 points) as follows: Answers to In-Class Questions and Email Assignment (140 points); Homework assignments (100 points); Final Project (100 points); Midterm Exam (150 points); and Final Exam (150 points). Your contribution to discussion in class can improve your grade, but cannot lower it. Unexcused absences can lower your grade.

V. COURSE EVALUATION. Fri., Mar. 11 in class. The course evaluation is your opportunity to evaluate my performance and to provide suggestions for improving the course.



1. Available for purchase at the University Book Store: Robert Axelrod, The Evolution of Cooperation (EC); Robert H. Frank, Passions Within Reason (PWR); Robin M. Hogarth and Melvin W. Reder, eds., Rational Choice (RC).

2. Class Reader (photocopied materials). [Referred to as "Reader" below.] The Reader is available for purchase at the Copy Center in the Communications Building, Room B-042.

3. Supplemental Reader (Colman). I had intended that the following book would be a required text for the course: Andrew M. Colman, Game Theory and its Applications (GTA). The Colman text is out of print. The required parts of it have been assembled into a Supplemental Course Reader that is available for purchase at the Copy Center in the Communications Building, Room B-042.

B. READING ASSIGNMENTS [Note that the order in which readings appear in the reader is not the order in which we read them.]

WEEK #1 (Jan. 5-9):

Introduction and Overview

1. James Buchanan, The Limits of Liberty, Chapter 2, pp. 17-34 [READER pp. 5-14].

Parametric Rationality: Decisions Under Certainty, Risk, and Uncertainty

2. Colman, GTA, Chapters 1-2, pp. 3-32.

WEEK #2 (Jan. 12-16):

Strategic Rationality (Non-Cooperative Game Theory)

Strictly Competitive Games

1. Colman, GTA, Chaps. 4-5, pp. 53-99.

Purely Cooperative Games: Standard Convention Game, Pareto Convention Game

1. Colman, GTA, Chap. 3 (partial), pp. 33-40.

Mixed Motive Games

1. Colman, GTA, Chap. 6 (partial), pp. 100-121, and Chapter 7, pp. 134-160. Note that on p. 120, l. 14 from the bottom, the text should read: "A unilateral cooperator may therefore be described as a 'martyr'."

WEEK #3 (Jan. 19-23) [NO CLASS ON MON., JAN. 19]

Two-Person PD Supergames

1. Axelrod, EC, Chapter 1-4, pp. 3-87, and Chapters 8-9, pp. 145-191.

2. Michael Taylor, The Possibility of Cooperation, Chapter 3, pp. 60-81 [READER pp. 15-25].


N-Person Collective Action Problems, including N-Person PD Supergames

1. Colman, GTA, Chap. 9, pp. 186-226. Ignore the analysis of the Auction game on the bottom of p. 194 and the top of p. 195.

2. Russell Hardin, Collective Action, Chapter 4 (partial), pp. 50-57 [READER pp. 26-29].

3. Thomas C. Schelling, "Hockey Helmets, Daylight Saving, and Other Binary Choices", in Micromotives and Macrobehavior, pp. 213-234 [READER pp. 30-41]


The Emergence of Norms

1. Richard O. Zerbe, Jr. and C. Leigh Anderson, "Culture and Fairness in the Development of Institutions in the California Gold Fields" (manuscript) [READER pp. 108-133].

2. Elster, Nuts and Bolts for the Social Sciences, Chapter XII, pp. 113-123 [READER pp. 75-80].

3. Christina Bicchieri, "Norms of Cooperation", in Ethics, Vol. 100, No. 4 (July 1990), pp. 838-861 [READER pp. 45-56].

WEEK #6 (Feb. 9-13)

The Emotions

1. Frank, PWR, Chapters 1-8, pp. 1-162.

WEEK #7 (Feb. 16-20) [NO CLASS ON MON., FEB. 16]

Attitudes of Approval and Disapproval

1. Philip Pettit, "Virtus Normativa: Rational Choice Perspectives", in Ethics, Vol. 100, No. 4 (July 1990), pp. 725-755 [READER pp. 57-72].

Moral Norms, Emotions, and Attitudes

1. Frank, PWR, Chapters 9-12, pp. 163-259.

2. Kahneman, Knetsch, and Thaler, "Fairness and the Assumptions of Economics", in RC, pp. 101-116.

3. Kunreuther comments on Kahneman, et al., in RC, pp. 145-148.

4. Schweder comments on Kahneman, et al., in RC, pp. 163-165.

WEEK #8 (Feb. 23-27)

What is Game Theory a Theory of?--Economics Meets Psychology

1. Tversky and Kahneman, , "Rational Choice and the Framing of Decisions", in RC, pp. 67-94.

2. Simon, "Rationality in Psychology and Economics", in RC, pp. 25-40.

3. Plott, "Rational Choice in Experimental Markets", in RC, pp. 117-143.

4. Thaler comments in RC, pp. 95-100.

5. Winter's comments and The Classic Defense, in RC, pp. 243-250.

6. Zeckhauser comments in RC, pp. 251-265.

The Allais Paradox--A Case Study

1. Leonard J. Savage, "Allais' Paradox", in Gardenfors and Sahlin, eds. Decision, Probability, and Utility, pp. 163-165 [READER pp. 73-74].

WEEK #9 (Mar. 2-6)

Evolution and Game Theory: The Evolution of Rationality

1. Colman, GTA, Chapter 11, pp. 272-293.

2. Skyrms, Evolution of the Social Contract , Chap. 1, pp. 1-21 [READER pp. 88-98].

3. Debra Satz and John Ferejohn, "Rational Choice and Social Theory", Journal of Philosophy 94 (1994), pp. 71-87 [READER pp. 99-107].

Group Selection and Social Identity

1. Wilson and Sober, "Reintroducing Group Selection to the Human Behavioral Sciences", Behavioral and Brain Sciences 17 (1994), pp. 585-608 [READER pp. 156-179].


The Evolution of Social Institutions

1. Elster, Nuts and Bolts for the Social Sciences, Chap. XV, pp. 147-158 [READER pp. 81-87].

2. Donald T. Campbell, "Rationality and Utility from the Standpoint of Evolutionary Biology", in RC, pp. 171-180.