Skip to main content
    • Aa
    • Aa

Why Hobbes' State of Nature is Best Modeled by an Assurance Game


In this article, I argue that if one closely follows Hobbes' line of reasoning in Leviathan, in particular his distinction between the second and the third law of nature, and the logic of his contractarian theory, then Hobbes' state of nature is best translated into the language of game theory by an assurance game, and not by a one-shot or iterated prisoner's dilemma game, nor by an assurance dilemma game. Further, I support Hobbes' conclusion that the sovereign must always punish the Foole, and even exclude her from the cooperative framework or take her life, if she defects once society is established, which is best expressed in the language of game theory by a grim strategy. That is, compared to existing game-theoretic interpretations of Hobbes, I argue that the sovereign plays a grim strategy with the citizens once society is established, and not the individuals with one another in the state of nature.

Hide All
Gregory Kavka , ‘Hobbes's War of All Against All’, Ethics 93 (1983), pp. 291310

Peter Vanderschraaf , ‘War or Peace? A Dynamical Analysis of Anarchy’, Economics and Philosophy 22 (2006), p. 252

Brian Skyrms , ‘The Shadow of the Future’, Rational Commitment and Social Justice, ed. Jules L. Coleman and Christopher W. Morris (Cambridge, 1998), pp. 1221

Per Molander , ‘The Prevalence of Free Riding’, Journal of Conflict Resolution 36 (1992), pp. 756–71

Robert Axelrod , ‘The Emergence of Cooperation among Egoists’, The American Political Science Review 75 (1981), pp. 306–18

Peter Vanderschraaf , ‘Covenants and Reputation’, Synthese 157 (2007), pp. 167–95

Dieter Hüning , ‘Hobbes on the Right to Punish’, The Cambridge Companion to Hobbes's Leviathan, ed. Patricia Springborg (Cambridge, 2007), pp. 217–40

Recommend this journal

Email your librarian or administrator to recommend adding this journal to your organisation's collection.

  • ISSN: 0953-8208
  • EISSN: 1741-6183
  • URL: /core/journals/utilitas
Please enter your name
Please enter a valid email address
Who would you like to send this to? *


Full text views

Total number of HTML views: 22
Total number of PDF views: 193 *
Loading metrics...

Abstract views

Total abstract views: 642 *
Loading metrics...

* Views captured on Cambridge Core between September 2016 - 19th October 2017. This data will be updated every 24 hours.