Hostname: page-component-6b989bf9dc-llglr Total loading time: 0 Render date: 2024-04-13T06:08:30.928Z Has data issue: false hasContentIssue false

Hobbes's State of Nature: A Modern Bayesian Game-Theoretic Analysis

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  22 September 2015



Hobbes's own justification for the existence of governments relies on the assumption that without a government our lives in the state of nature would result in a state of war of every man against every man. Many contemporary scholars have tried to explain why universal war is unavoidable in Hobbes's state of nature by utilizing modern game theory. However, most game-theoretic models that have been presented so far do not accurately capture what Hobbes deems to be the primary cause of conflict in the state of nature—namely, uncertainty, rather than people's egoistic psychology. Therefore, I claim that any game-theoretic model that does not incorporate uncertainty into the picture is the wrong model. In this paper, I use Bayesian game theory to show how universal conflict can break out in the state of nature—even when the majority of the population would strictly prefer to cooperate and seek peace with other people—due to uncertainty about what type of person the other player is. Along the way, I show that the valuation of one's own life is one of the central mechanisms that drives Hobbes's pessimistic conclusion.

Copyright © American Philosophical Association 2015 

Access options

Get access to the full version of this content by using one of the access options below. (Log in options will check for institutional or personal access. Content may require purchase if you do not have access.)


Barry, Brian. (1965) Political Argument. London: Routledge & Kegan Paul.Google Scholar
Broad, C. D. (1950) ‘Egoism as a Theory of Human Motives’. Hibbert Journal, 48, 105–14.Google Scholar
Butler, Joseph. (1983) Five Sermons. Edited by Darwall, Stephen. Indianapolis, IN: Hackett.Google Scholar
Cooper, Russell, Douglas, V. Dejong, Robert Forshythe, and Ross, Thomas W.. (1996) ‘Cooperation without Reputation: Experimental Evidence from Prisoner's Dilemma Games’. Games and Economic Behavior, 12, 187218.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Dawes, Robyn, M., and Thaler, Richard H.. (1988) ‘Anomalies: Cooperation’. The Journal of Economic Perspectives, 2, 187–97.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Dodds, Graham G., and Shoemaker, David W.. (2002) ‘Why We Can't All Just Get Along: Human Variety and Game Theory in Hobbes's State of Nature’. Southern Journal of Philosophy, 40, 345–74.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Gauthier, David. (1969) The Logic of Leviathan. Oxford: Oxford University Press.Google Scholar
Hampton, Jean. (1986) Hobbes and the Social Contract Tradition. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press.Google Scholar
Hobbes, Thomas. (1991) Man and Citizen (De Homine and De Cive). Indianapolis, IN: Hackett.Google Scholar
Hobbes, Thomas. (1994) Leviathan (with selected variants from the Latin edition of 1668). Indianapolis, IN: Hackett.Google Scholar
Hobbes, Thomas. (1997) On the Citizen. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press.Google Scholar
Hume, David. (1975) An Enquiry Concerning the Principles of Morals. Oxford: Clarendon Press.Google Scholar
Kavka, Gregory. (1986) Hobbesian Moral and Political Theory. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press.Google Scholar
Kavka, Gregory. (1989) ‘Political Contractarianism’. Unpublished Manuscript.Google Scholar
McNeilly, F. S. (1966) ‘Egoism in Hobbes’. Philosophical Quarterly, 16, 193206.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Moehler, Michael. (2009) ‘Why Hobbes's State of Nature is Best Modeled by an Assurance Game’. Utilitas, 21, 297326.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Rawls, John. ([1971] 1999) A Theory of Justice. Rev. ed. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Schelling, Thomas. (1980) The Strategy of Conflict. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.Google Scholar
Sen, Amartya. (1967) ‘Isolation, Assurance and the Social Rate of Discount’. Quarterly Journal of Economics, 81, 112–24.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Skyrms, Brian. (2004) The Stag Hunt and the Evolution of Social Structure. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press.Google Scholar
Taylor, Michael. (1976) Anarchy and Cooperation. London: Wiley.Google Scholar
Taylor, Michael. (1987) The Possibility of Cooperation. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press.Google Scholar
Vanderschraaf, Peter. (2006) ‘War or Peace?: A Dynamical Analysis of Anarchy’. Economics and Philosophy, 22, 243–79.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Supplementary material: File

Chung supplementary material


Download Chung supplementary material(File)
File 44.9 KB