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Natural Justice 1st Edition

5 customer reviews
ISBN-13: 978-0199791484
ISBN-10: 0199791481
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Editorial Reviews


"Ken Binmore has written a truly exciting book that derives moral principles of fairness, equity, and other behavior from evolutionary theory. In his theory, societies that hit on more efficient and 'fairer' equilibrium are more likely to survive through a combination of genetic and cultural selection. He is in my judgment appropriately highly critical of the rather arbitrary solutions to morality offered by Kant and some other philosophers. The book is innovative but controversial, and is truly a fresh and original approach written mainly in non-technical language. It should be widely read and discussed. I predict it will have a significant influence on discussions of moral principles in the future."--Gary S. Becker, University of Chicago and Nobel laureate in Economics

"Ken Binmore has written a lively, readable account of his social contract theory--shorn of technicalities and accessible to nonspecialists. Readers will be treated to fun and games in social philosophy for the 21st century." --Brian Skyrms, Professor of Philosophy, University of California, Irvine

About the Author

Ken Binmore is a mathematician-turned-economist who has devoted his life to the theory of games and its applications in economics, evolutionary biology, psychology, and moral philosophy. He is best known for his part in designing the telecom auction that raised $35 billion for the British taxpayer, but his major research contributions are to the theory of bargaining and its testing in the laboratory. He is a Fellow of the British Academy and of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences. He is the author of 12 books and some 90 research papers. He is Emeritus Professor of Economics at University College London.


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Product Details

  • Paperback: 224 pages
  • Publisher: Oxford University Press; 1 edition (January 28, 2011)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0199791481
  • ISBN-13: 978-0199791484
  • Product Dimensions: 9.9 x 0.8 x 7 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.1 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (5 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #428,891 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

22 of 22 people found the following review helpful By JJ vd Weele on June 16, 2007
Format: Hardcover
Even though it is not always a s clear as it should have been, this is a brilliant book. To moral philosophy, Binmore applies Marx' famous dictum reversed: We have tried to change the world, now it is time to understand it. According to Binmore, prevailing theories have taught us little about how justice actually works. Instead of relying on evidence on the nature of ourselves and our societies, they have invoked various utopian "Gods", such as rationality or the impartial spectator, when talking about morality. In Binmore's trademark fluent and militant style he scorns especially Kantian philosophy, that is referred to as the `dark age of moral reasoning', and has led to `absurdly implausible rules'. (In another passage we are told that the self-proclaimed pundits of moral philosophy `have no more access to some noumenal world of moral absolutes than the boy who delivers our newspapers'.)
Instead, says Binmore, we need to study the actual rules that people use and see where they come from: How did they evolve and why do they survive?
Moral relativism indeed, but of a very persuasive sort. According to Binmore, fairness rules have evolved to help societies select between equilibria in various coordination games that arise in life. Societies that selected the more efficient equilibria have survived, resulting in our current and constantly evolving social contract. Or in the more eloquent words of Binmore: "Fairness is the social tool washed up on the human beach by the tide of evolution for solving [...] coordination problems [...]".

Although this summarizes the basic philosophy underlying the whole book, the full theory exposited in it is great deal more complicated.
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34 of 37 people found the following review helpful By Dr. A. Bowyer on June 6, 2006
Format: Hardcover
This is a deeply important, but flawed, book. The important aspects are
the ideas behind it, and the flaws are in their exposition.

The book describes the application of evolutionary game theory to the
development of human morality. It shows how some moral positions are
stable, and so are likely to have been selected both by Darwin's Law
of Evolution and by cultural selection in successful societies. It
also shows how forces can influence those stable configurations, so,
for example, in a society with an uncorrupt disinterested and powerful
police force, one would expect utilitarianism to prevail, whereas in
an anarchy one would expect egalitarianism to do so.

The book also offers a cogent, finely-argued and completely successful
rebuttal of Kantian deontology, "right for right's sake", and the
categorical imperative. This rebuttal is long overdue.

However, from the literary standpoint, Binmore is no Dawkins. He
writes well enough from sentence to sentence, and his use of anecdote
and example is good. But he does not have a feel for overall
structure, and does not give the impression of having in mind the
possible ways in which the reader might mis-understand what he is

Binmore's ideas are both correct and very significant. It is a shame
that he has not written about them more clearly. But on balance this book is well worth reading.
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2 of 4 people found the following review helpful By PoplarLeaf on December 13, 2013
Format: Kindle Edition
The idea is good. However, the writing skill is so so. Oftentimes it is very misleading or confusing the way it is written. I read this book very slowly because I want to figure out what it really wants to say. If it is for the public (no math involved), it should be an easy read. Oh well, I wish it used some math so that would be easier for me in this case. Again, the idea is great, the writing is confused.
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1 of 4 people found the following review helpful By Amazon Customer on December 7, 2014
Format: Paperback
This is good, there's a lot of useful stuff here. I don't emerge believing that whatever prejudice is shared widely enough is just, which is something Mr. Binmore seems to be arguing. There's no real distinction here between good manners and justice - but then, that's England. Still, it's hard to have much to contribute to the discussion without having read this book. Like most contemporary philosophers, Binmore can't tell the difference between the nice and the right, let alone the good and the right. I would find the society described in the book stifling, but it is a pleasure to disagree with a view that's so clearly stated. Head and shoulders above any other contemporary book on the subject.
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0 of 3 people found the following review helpful By Bret Blakeslee on June 8, 2014
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
This book is about how to use Game Theory in real life (or how it might be used) by a genuine expert. Ken Binmore is Professor Emeritus of Economics at University College, London. This is the real thing by a mathematician, economist, and game theorist who was awarded the CBE "for making a significant achievement for the United Kingdom" in his field. "Game Theory and the Social Contract, [is] an ambitious attempt to lay the foundations for a genuine science of morals using the theory of games. In Game Theory and the Social Contract Binmore proposes a naturalistic reinterpretation of John Rawls' original position that reconciles his egalitarian theory of justice with John Harsanyi's utilitarian theory. His recent Natural Justice provides a nontechnical synthesis of this work." (an excerpt from Wikipedia). This book is the real thing.
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