The tortoise and the prisoners' dilemma

Mind 105 (419):475-483 (1996)
Abstract
Simon Blackburn has claimed that on a theory of revealed preference it is tautological that any eligible player - one whose preferences are consistent - plays hawk, chooses a strategy of non-cooperation with the other prisoner. This claim is examined and rejected. A prisoner in the appropriate sense is defined not by preferences over actions (playing hawk or playing dove) but by preferences over the four possible outcomes which result from the players' actions jointly (both playing hawk, both playing dove, the first playing hawk and the second dove, and vice versa). It is not inconsistent to suppose that a prisoner has the appropriate preferences over outcomes but nevertheless chooses to play dove. This can happen either if the prisoner believes for some reason that the full range of outcomes is not available, or if the prisoner is simply a bad strategic thinker. It is perhaps tautological that a player with the appropriate preferences over outcome and with suitable beliefs will if rational choose to play hawk. However, rationality would then involve an appeal to a further principle, the sure-thing principle: if a prisoner would choose hawk knowing that the other will choose hawk, and would also choose hawk knowing that the other will choose dove, then hawk should be chosen when it is uncertain what the other will choose.
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