David Bourget (Western Ontario)
David Chalmers (ANU, NYU)
Rafael De Clercq
Jack Alan Reynolds
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Philosophy and Public Affairs 34 (4):313–351 (2006)
There is an idea, extremely common among social contract theorists, that the primary function of social institutions is to secure some form of cooperative benefit. If individuals simply seek to satisfy their own preferences in a narrowly instrumental fashion, they will find themselves embroiled in collective action problems – interactions with an outcome that is worse for everyone involved than some other possible outcome. Thus they have reason to accept some form of constraint over their conduct, in order to achieve this superior, but out-of-equilibrium outcome. A social institution can be defined as a set of norms that codify these constraints.1 Simplifying somewhat, one can then say that social institutions exist in order to secure gains in Pareto-efficiency.
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