Skip to main content Accessibility help

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

  • HUN CHUNG (a1)


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.



Hide All
Barry, Brian. (1965) Political Argument. London: Routledge & Kegan Paul.
Broad, C. D. (1950) ‘Egoism as a Theory of Human Motives’. Hibbert Journal, 48, 105–14.
Butler, Joseph. (1983) Five Sermons. Edited by Darwall, Stephen. Indianapolis, IN: Hackett.
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.
Dawes, Robyn, M., and Thaler, Richard H.. (1988) ‘Anomalies: Cooperation’. The Journal of Economic Perspectives, 2, 187–97.
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.
Gauthier, David. (1969) The Logic of Leviathan. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
Hampton, Jean. (1986) Hobbes and the Social Contract Tradition. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press.
Hobbes, Thomas. (1991) Man and Citizen (De Homine and De Cive). Indianapolis, IN: Hackett.
Hobbes, Thomas. (1994) Leviathan (with selected variants from the Latin edition of 1668). Indianapolis, IN: Hackett.
Hobbes, Thomas. (1997) On the Citizen. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press.
Hume, David. (1975) An Enquiry Concerning the Principles of Morals. Oxford: Clarendon Press.
Kavka, Gregory. (1986) Hobbesian Moral and Political Theory. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press.
Kavka, Gregory. (1989) ‘Political Contractarianism’. Unpublished Manuscript.
McNeilly, F. S. (1966) ‘Egoism in Hobbes’. Philosophical Quarterly, 16, 193206.
Moehler, Michael. (2009) ‘Why Hobbes's State of Nature is Best Modeled by an Assurance Game’. Utilitas, 21, 297326.
Rawls, John. ([1971] 1999) A Theory of Justice. Rev. ed. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.
Schelling, Thomas. (1980) The Strategy of Conflict. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.
Sen, Amartya. (1967) ‘Isolation, Assurance and the Social Rate of Discount’. Quarterly Journal of Economics, 81, 112–24.
Skyrms, Brian. (2004) The Stag Hunt and the Evolution of Social Structure. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press.
Taylor, Michael. (1976) Anarchy and Cooperation. London: Wiley.
Taylor, Michael. (1987) The Possibility of Cooperation. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press.
Vanderschraaf, Peter. (2006) ‘War or Peace?: A Dynamical Analysis of Anarchy’. Economics and Philosophy, 22, 243–79.


Type Description Title
Supplementary materials

Chung supplementary material

 Word (45 KB)
45 KB

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

  • HUN CHUNG (a1)


Full text views

Total number of HTML views: 0
Total number of PDF views: 0 *
Loading metrics...

Abstract views

Total abstract views: 0 *
Loading metrics...

* Views captured on Cambridge Core between <date>. This data will be updated every 24 hours.

Usage data cannot currently be displayed