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The Bounds of Reason: Game Theory and the Unification of the Behavioral Sciences Paperback – April 20, 2014

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 288 pages
  • Publisher: Princeton University Press; Revised edition (April 20, 2014)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0691160848
  • ISBN-13: 978-0691160849
  • Product Dimensions: 9.9 x 6.9 x 0.9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.1 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (6 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #376,241 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews


"The Bounds of Reason appears as two books in one. One part develops an epistemic theory of the rational actor as an alternative to what is provided by classical game theory, and the other part is a spirited plea to use behavioral game theory as a unifying tool in all behavioral sciences. Both objectives are highly valuable, but combing them both creates friction. Friction creates heat, and Gintis, who thrives gleefully on controversial issues, may be enjoying the prospect of heated discussions."--Karl Sigmund, American Scientist

"Gintis' work reflects an amazing breadth of knowledge of the behavioural sciences. He is ever ready to pose unusual questions and to defend unorthodox proposals. The Bounds of Reason is Gintis' most ambitious project to date, one that draws upon all of his extraordinary originality and learning."--Peter Vanderschraaf, Journal of Economics and Philosophy

"The book is a combination of an excellent textbook on game theory and an innovation treatise advocating the unification of the behavioural sciences and refounding of game theory on different epistemic foundations. . . . It is clearly an important contribution to the current debate over the rational actor model that the rise of behaviourial economics has provoked."--Oxonomics

From the Inside Flap

"Gintis contributes importantly to a new insight gaining ascendancy: economy is about the unintended consequences of human sociality. This book is firmly in the revolutionary tradition of David Hume (Convention) and Adam Smith (Sympathy)."--Vernon L. Smith, Nobel Prize-winning economist

"Herbert Gintis makes a strong case that game theory--by predicting social norms--provides an essential tool for understanding human social behavior. More provocatively, Gintis suggests that humans have a genetic tendency to follow social norms even when it is to their disadvantage. These claims will be controversial--but they make for fascinating reading."--Eric S. Maskin, Nobel Laureate in Economics

"Recent findings in experimental economics have highlighted the need for a rigorous analytical theory of choice and strategic interaction for the social sciences that captures the unexpectedly wide variety of observed behaviors. In this exciting book, Gintis convincingly argues that an empirically informed game-theoretic approach goes a long way toward achieving this attractive goal."--Ernst Fehr, University of Zurich

"This brave and sweeping book deserves to be widely and carefully read."--Adam Brandenburger, New York University

"The Bounds of Reason makes a compelling case for game theory but at the same time warns readers that there is life beyond game theory and that all social science cannot be understood by this method alone. This splendid book makes skillful use of figures and algebra, and reads like a charm."--Kaushik Basu, Cornell University

"Excellent and stimulating, The Bounds of Reason is broad enough to encompass the central concepts and results in game theory, but discerning enough to omit peripheral developments. The book illustrates deep theoretical results using simple and entertaining examples, makes extensive use of agent-based models and simulation methods, and discusses thorny methodological issues with unusual clarity."--Rajiv Sethi, Barnard College, Columbia University

--This text refers to the Hardcover edition.

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Customer Reviews

4.7 out of 5 stars
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This book is both thought provoking and enjoyable.
Amazon Customer
In fact, this book presents so many interesting issues that it is difficult to present all of them here.
Daniel O. Cajueiro
Therefore, if you want to learn modern game theory with a few days work, buy this book.
Aaron C. Brown

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

42 of 43 people found the following review helpful By JJ vd Weele on March 17, 2010
Format: Hardcover
This book departs from a very good set of questions: How can it be that several different behavioral sciences - sociology, social psychology, economics, biology - all study human social behavior, yet have vastly different conceptual frameworks? And perhaps more importantly: is there a way to unify these frameworks?

Professor Herbert Gintis is uniquely qualified to tackle these questions: as any reader of his Amazon book reviews can see, he is very widely read in all the social sciences, and much of his own research is interdisciplinary. Gintis proposes that game theory - a mathematical framework for analyzing strategic interactions between individuals - can play the role of unifying framework for the social sciences. The first half of the book is dedicated to explaining the basic concepts of game theory, and how it applies to basic issues in human social behavior.

The second half of the book is dedicated to connecting game theory to the sociological concept of a social norm. A central point in Gintis' argument is the concept of correlated equilibrium. A correlated equilibrium augments the well-known Nash equilibrium by adding a correlating device. A correlating device - or choreographer as Gintis' calls it - essentially is a random variable with the distribution over the set of strategy profiles. The correlating device selects a strategy profile (one strategy for each player) and tells each player what to do according to this strategy profile. If it is optimal for each player to follow the advice of the choreographer given her beliefs about what the choreographer advised the other players, a correlating equilibrium exist. As an example of this one can think of a traffic light.
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38 of 41 people found the following review helpful By Amazon Customer on April 26, 2009
Format: Hardcover
I saw this book on a counter in a book store. I saw the quote on the front from Nobel-Prize-winning economist Vernon Smith likening it to the works of David Hume and Adam Smith---strong praise indeed. I was intrigued, so I picked up the book and leafed through it. I couldn't finish it at the book store so I bought it and took it home.

I can't do justice to this book in a sentence or two. Professor Gintis sets an ambitious goal for this book--reconciling the various behavioral sciences (economics, psychology, biology, and sociology) with their different, indeed conflicting, explanations of human behavior. He examines how the insights into human behavior given by game theory are complemented by understandings drawn from other social sciences.

Although I have little familiarity with game theory, I found the book relatively easy to follow. The writing is clear---with many short sentences rather than paragraph-long, pseudo-academic clouds of words. The author appears to have put considerable effort in to making the material accessible---he avoids difficult mathematics even if doing so slightly expands the needed explanations.

This book is both thought provoking and enjoyable. I strongly recommend it to any graduate student or professional in the social sciences. I plan to give copies as gifts to a few people.

It's only $25.20 if you buy it through Amazon rather than the $35 I paid in a bookstore.


An engineer who values economics
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Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
This book is an easy-to-understand survey of modern game theory with no more (and no less) mathematics than is necessary for that. It is not comprehensive. It covers only material that is logically consistent and grounded in observation. But it argues convincingly that that subset is all you should care about. Defining the boundary sometimes gets close to splitting hairs, an occupational hazard of game theory and any field trying to distill rigorous foundations from complex evidence and competing research traditions. Overall, however, the author lays down clear and sensible rules that exclude a lot of nonsense and organize the remaining material in simple and satisfying ways. Few specialists will agree exactly with the treatment, but I think almost everyone will find it reasonably good.

Therefore, if you want to learn modern game theory with a few days work, buy this book. Read it with pencil and paper to work out examples and exercises (it's not a text with problems at the end of each chapter but the author does occasionally leave proofs to be supplied by the reader). Use the Internet for some key references. It does not demand any special training in mathematics, nothing beyond eighth grade techniques, but the logic and set arguments can be very intricate. It requires attention and a precise mind to follow, but not calculus or any other form of complex computation.

On top of this, the author offers his own thoughts on how central concepts in game theory drawn from biology, anthropology, sociology, psychology and economics can be combined in a consistent framework, that can serve as a foundation for all five fields. Each field studies emergent properties that cannot be derived from the foundation, so each will need its own applied game theory.
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