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Evolution of the Social Contract Paperback – June 28, 1996

ISBN-13: 978-0521555838 ISBN-10: 0521555833 Edition: First Edition
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Editorial Reviews


"...an excellent, accessible, clear, organized book--and the ideas are delicious and nutritious." D. Dennett, 1997

"Readers from many disciplines-including biology, economics, philosophy, and political science will find fruitful ideas in this book." Larry Arnhart, The Review of Politics

Book Description

A recognized authority on game and decision theory investigates traditional problems of the social contract in terms of evolutionary dynamics. Game theory is skillfully employed to offer new interpretations of a variety of social phenomena, including justice, mutual aid, commitment, convention and meaning.

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 162 pages
  • Publisher: Cambridge University Press; First Edition edition (June 28, 1996)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0521555833
  • ISBN-13: 978-0521555838
  • Product Dimensions: 5.4 x 0.4 x 8.5 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 7.2 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (6 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #717,597 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

66 of 69 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on March 29, 1998
Format: Paperback
I originally picked up this book due to a glowing print review given to it by Freeman Dyson and I wasn't at all disapointed. I found it to be a really remarkably in-depth treatment of the subject matter considering the relatively meager length and yet it was simple, direct and unpretentious. ( I would preface this book, however, with a more inclusive work on Game theory if you're interested. It's not necessary to understand the thesis or learn from the experiments but there are many principal concepts in Game theory that he never defines completely- such as Nash Equilibrium. I suggest William Poundstone's "The Prisoner's Dilemma")
I think the final chapter is one of the most compelling explanations available in print of how differential reproduction can and does most frequently create environments where individuals of a species engage in activities that benefit the group at their own personal expense. He leads directly to the point of any given chapter without beating you over the head with it and by the time you get there, you realize that it was without resorting to extensive technical language or drawing on a huge number of oblique studies. It probably doesn't need to be said that this book doesn't provide much to the "rational choice social contract" thinkers and I think the title is more than enough to steer them away, anyway.

In summary, I think this book would be of tremendous interest to anyone interested in Game theory, Theoretical mathematics, sociology, political science, microeconomics or any of a number of different fields specifically because of the author's aversion to distilling the ideas presented in the book into a misleading one sentence conclusion. If you're looking for a brief yet salient discussion of the subject matter, this is both.
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10 of 11 people found the following review helpful By E. Safak on May 29, 2008
Format: Paperback
Before picking it up, at one hundred odd pages, I reckoned this would be a great book to finish before a weekend lunch. I thought I already knew the fundamentals of game theory and sociobiology, and this book would cement my knowledge. I ended up spending the whole day reading and mulling over each paragraph. I am impressed by how much Skyrms was able to cover in such a short space. Here is a check list of concepts, from the opening paragraph of the Postscript:

* Bargaining games and distributive justice
* Ultimatum games and commitment
* Prisoner's dilemma and mutual aid
* Hawk-dove and the origins of ownership
* Signaling games and the evolution of meaning

I have three minor complaints. The first is that title does not accurately reflect the contents of the book. There is no explicit discussion of the social contract. Few biological and no historical examples (I'm not counting the literary ones, such as from Dante). It is mostly logical/mathematical in content, while employing almost no equations, so anyone with sound reasoning skills should be able to follow. My second concern is that it is dense. Maybe padding it with more, illustrated examples would aid comprehension. My third concern is that the examples were a bit too abstract at times. Perhaps this reflects the author's background (Professor of Logic & Philosophy of Science and Economics). Althought it is gratifying to know that the mathematical tools can be applied so generally, concrete examples are easier to relate to. That said, some of the examples, especially those accompanied by diagrams made me want to verify the results by running a simulation myself. It turns out that the code and results are online; just search for them.
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6 of 6 people found the following review helpful By JJ vd Weele on September 21, 2008
Format: Paperback
If your view of evolution is one of a war of all against all, then think again. Each chapter in this little monograph highlights a specific evolutionary mechanism why we are not constantly attacking each other, but generally live on rather harmonious terms.

The evolution of fairness, commitment, social conventions, and language are explained in terms of evolutionary game theory. Although this requires a tolerance for toy-models with low levels of realism, the language is not technical. You will have to think a bit, but the book never gets too abstract. Another strong point is that Skyrms, a philosopher by formation, is able to link his models to the main philosophical literature on the topic.

The author does not elaborate on academic discussions about the evolution of cooperation. For example, his account of the evolution of cooperation as resulting from the correlated pairings of cooperators in the population is by no means uncontested. But then, being more complete would require a much larger and probably rather more boring volume, so we forgive him.

Ultimately, the social contract is hardly mentioned. But Skyrms does discredit a simple account in which evolution only favours the selfish, and has made it good reading too.
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