Strong Reciprocity theorists claim that cooperation in social dilemma games can be sustained by costly punishment mechanisms that eliminate incentives to free ride, even in one-shot and finitely repeated games. There is little doubt that costly punishment raises cooperation in laboratory conditions. Its efficacy in the field however is controversial. I distinguish two interpretations of experimental results, and show that the wide interpretation endorsed by Strong Reciprocity theorists is unsupported by ethnographic evidence on decentralised punishment and by historical evidence on (...) common pool institutions. The institutions that spontaneously evolve to solve dilemmas of cooperation typically exploit low-cost mechanisms, turning finite games into indefinitely repeated ones and eliminating the cost of sanctioning. (shrink)
Thaler and Sunstein justify nudge policies from welfaristic premises: nudges are acceptable because they benefit the individuals who are nudged. A tacit assumption behind this strategy is that we can identify the true preferences of decision-makers. We argue that this assumption is often unwarranted, and that as a consequence nudge policies must be justified in a different way. A possible strategy is to abandon welfarism and endorse genuine paternalism. Another one is to argue that the biases of decision that choice (...) architects attempt to eliminate create externalities. For example, in the case of intertemporal discounting, the costs of preference reversals are not always paid by the discounters, because they are transferred onto other individuals. But if this is the case, then nudges are best justified from a political rather than welfaristic standpoint. (shrink)
The answer in a nutshell is: Yes, five years ago, but nobody has noticed. Nobody noticed because the majority of social scientists subscribe to one of the following views: (1) the ‘anomalous’ behaviour observed in standard prisoner’s dilemma or ultimatum game experiments has refuted standard game theory a long time ago; (2) game theory is flexible enough to accommodate any observed choices by ‘refining’ players’ preferences; or (3) it is just a piece of pure mathematics (a tautology). None of these (...) views is correct. This paper defends the view that GT as commonly understood is not a tautology, that it suffers from important (albeit very recently discovered) empirical anomalies, and that it is not flexible enough to accommodate all the anomalies in its theoretical framework. It also discusses the experiments that finally refuted game theory, and concludes trying to explain why it took so long for experimental game theorists to design experiments that could adequately test the theory. (shrink)
Experimental “localism” stresses the importance of context‐specific knowledge, and the limitations of universal theories in science. I illustrate Latour's radical approach to localism and show that it has some unpalatable consequences, in particular the suggestion that problems of external validity (or how to generalize experimental results to nonlaboratory circumstances) cannot be solved. In the last part of the paper I try to sketch a solution to the problem of external validity by extending Mayo's error‐probabilistic approach.
David Lewis famously proposed to model conventions as solutions to coordination games, where equilibrium selection is driven by precedence, or the history of play. A characteristic feature of Lewis Conventions is that they are intrinsically non-normative. Some philosophers have argued that for this reason they miss a crucial aspect of our folk notion of convention. It is doubtful however that Lewis was merely analysing a folk concept. I illustrate how his theory can (and must) be assessed using empirical data, and (...) argue that it does indeed miss an important aspect of real-world conventions. (shrink)
The Ultimatum Game is one of the most successful experimental designs in the history of the social sciences. In this article I try to explain this success—what makes it a “paradigmatic experiment”—stressing in particular its versatility. Despite the intentions of its inventors, the Ultimatum Game was never a good design to test economic theory, and it is now mostly used as a heuristic tool for the observation of nonstandard preferences or as a “social thermometer” for the observation of culture‐specific norms. (...) †To contact the author, please write to: Department of Sociology and Philosophy, University of Exeter, Amory Building, Exeter EX4 4DT, UK; e‐mail: firstname.lastname@example.org. (shrink)
External validity is the problem of generalizing results from laboratory to non?laboratory conditions. In this paper we review various ways in which the problem can be tackled, depending on the kind of experiment one is doing. Using a concrete example, we highlight in particular the distinction between external validity and robustness, and point out that many experiments are not aimed at a well?specified real?world target but rather contribute to a ?library of robust phenomena?, a body of experimental knowledge to be (...) applied case by case. (shrink)
Controversies in economics often fizzle out unresolved. One reason is that, despite their professed empiricism, economists find it hard to agree on the interpretation of the relevant empirical evidence. In this paper I will present an example of a controversial issue first raised and then solved by recourse to laboratory experimentation. A major theme of this paper, then, concerns the methodological advantages of controlled experiments. The second theme is the nature of experimental artefacts and of the methods devised to detect (...) them. Recent studies of experimental science have stressed that experimenters are often merely concerned about determining whether a certain phenomeonon exists or not, or whether, when, and where it can be produced, without necessarily engaging in proving or disproving any theoretical explanation of the phenomenon itself. In this paper I shall be concerned mainly with such a case, and focus on the example of preference reversals, a phenomenon whose existence was until quite recently denied by the majority of economists. Their favourite strategy consisted in trying to explain the phenomenon away as an artefact of the experimental techniques used to observe it. By controlled experimentation, as we shall see, such an interpretation has been discredited, and now preference reversals are generally accepted as real. The problem of distinguishing an artefact from a real phenomenon is related to methodological issues traditionally discussed by philosophers of science, such as the theory-ladenness of observation and Duhem's problem. Part of this paper is devoted to clarifying these two philosophical problems, and to arguing that only the latter is relevant to the case in hand. The solutions to Duhem's problem devised by economic experimentalists will be presented and discussed. I shall show that they belong in two broad categories: independent tests of new predictions derived from the competing hypotheses at stake, and ‘no- miracle arguments’ from different experimental techniques delivering converging results despite their being theoretically independent. (shrink)
Strong reciprocity theorists claim that punishment has evolved to promote the good of the group and to deter cheating. By contrast, weak reciprocity suggests that punishment aims to restore justice (i.e., reciprocity) between the criminal and his victim. Experimental evidences as well as field observations suggest that humans punish criminals to restore fairness rather than to support group cooperation.
The paper investigates how normative considerations influenced the development of the theory of individual decision-making under risk. In the first part, the debate between Maurice Allais and the 'Neo-Bernoullians' (supporting the Expected Utility model) is reconstructed, in order to show that a controversy on the definition of rational decision and on the methodology of normative justification played a crucial role in legitimizing the Allais-paradox as genuinely refuting evidence. In the second part, it is shown how informal notions of rationality were (...) among the tacit heuristic principles that led to the discovery of generalized models of decision put forward in the early eighties to replace the received model. (shrink)
Ontology is one of today’s buzzwords. It is back in fashion in analytical philosophy and Artificial Intelligence, and major projects and research centres get funding around the world (cf. e.g. the Buffalo Centre for Ontological Research, the Laboratory for Ontology in Turin, the Institute for Formal Ontology and Medical Information Science in Saarland). In the philosophy of science ontology has arguably always been a key area of research, under the guise of ‘The foundations of __’ (physics, biology, chemistry, etc.). Economics (...) however is an exception. Because of economics’ hybrid status, philosophers’ interest in its foundations has traditionally focused on normative issues – typically the theory of rationality that lies at the core of the neoclassical paradigm. What is relatively new, then, 1 is the current growth of interest for the metaphysics of economics as a descriptive scientific discipline (see e.g. Mäki, ed. 2001). (shrink)
While admirable, Guala's discussion of reciprocity suffers from a confusion between proximate causes (psychological mechanisms triggering behaviour) and ultimate causes (evolved function of those psychological mechanisms). Because much work on commits this error, I clarify the difference between proximate and ultimate causes of cooperation and punishment. I also caution against hasty rejections of of experimental evidence.
Two important arguments in the methodological literature on experimental economics rely on the specification of a domain for economic theory. The first one is used by some experimenters in their skirmishes with economic theorists, and moves from the assumption that theories have (or ought to have) their domain of application written in their assumptions. The other one is used to play down the relevance of certain unwelcome experimental results, and moves from the symmetric assumption that the domain of economic theory (...) is more limited than a literal reading of its assumptions would suggest. Of course, only one of them can be right. In this paper I criticise the former, and outline some well?known arguments that strongly point in the direction of the incompleteness of economic theory. Some remarks on the role of methodological arguments conclude the paper. (shrink)
The title of this book is rather misleading. “Birth of neoliberal governmentality,” or something like that, would have been more faithful to its contents. In Foucault's vocabulary, “biopolitics” is the “rationalisation” of “governmentality” : it's the theory, in other words, as opposed to the art of managing people. The mismatch between title and content is easily explained: the general theme of the courses at the Collège de France had to be announced at the beginning of each academic year. It is (...) part of the mandate of every professor at the Collège, however, that his lectures should follow closely his current research. As a consequence it wasn't unusual for Foucault to take new directions while he was lecturing. In 1979, for the first and only time in his career, he took a diversion into contemporary political philosophy. His principal object of investigation became “neoliberal” political economy. More precisely, he got increasingly interested in those strands of contemporary liberalism that use economic science both as a principle of limitation and of inspiration for the management of people. (shrink)
In a unified theory of human reciprocity, the strong and weak forms are similar because neither is biologically altruistic and both require normative motivation to support cooperation. However, strong reciprocity is necessary to support cooperation in public goods games. It involves inflicting costs on defectors; and though the costs for punishers are recouped, recouping costs requires complex institutions that would not have emerged if weak reciprocity had been enough.
A series of recent debates in experimental economics have associated demand effects with the artificiality of the experimental setting and have linked it to the problem of external validity. In this paper, we argue that these associations can be misleading, partly because of the ambiguity with which “artificiality” has been defined, but also because demand effects and external validity are related in complex ways. We argue that artificiality may be directly as well as inversely correlated with demand effects. We also (...) distinguish between the demand effects of experimentation and the reactions that they may trigger and that might endanger experimental validity. We conclude that economists should pay more attention to the way in which subjects construe the experimental task and learn to exploit subjects’ reactivity to expectations in their experiments. (shrink)
David Lewis famously proposed to model conventions as solutions to coordination games, where equilibrium selection is driven by precedence, or the history of play. A characteristic feature of Lewis Conventions is that they are intrinsically nonnormative. Some philosophers have argued that for this reason they miss a crucial aspect of our folk notion of convention. It is doubtful however that Lewis was merely analysing a folk concept. I illustrate how his theory can (and must) be assessed using empirical data, and (...) argue that it does indeed miss some important aspects of real-world conventions. I conclude that whether Lewis Conventions exist or not depends on how closely they approximate real-world behaviour, and whether we have any alternative theory that does a better job at explaining the phenomena. (shrink)
Martin Jones has criticized my account of the methodology of experimental economics on three points: the impossibility of testing external validity claims in the laboratory, my reconstruction of external validity inferences as analogical arguments, and the distinction between laboratory and non-laboratory sciences. I defend my account here and try to eliminate some misunderstandings that may have prompted Jones’s criticism.
I argue in my target article that field evidence does not support the costly punishment hypothesis. Some commentators object to my reading of the evidence, while others agree that evidence in favour of costly punishment is scant. Most importantly, no rigorous measurement of cost-benefit ratios in the field has been attempted so far. This lack of evidence does not rule out costly punishment as a cause of human cooperation, but it does pre-empt some overconfident claims made in the past. Other (...) commentators have interpreted my article as an anti-experimental pamphlet or as a flat denial of the existence of pro-social motives – which it was not intended to be. While we have enough data to establish the existence (and theoretical relevance) of strong reciprocity motives, I argue in this response that their efficacy (and policy relevance) has not been demonstrated. (shrink)
Guala does not go far enough in his critique of the assumption that human decisions about sharing made in the context of experimental game conditions accurately reflect decision-making under real conditions. Sharing of hunted animals is constrained by cultural rules and is not as assumed in models of weak and strong reciprocity. Missing in these models is the cultural basis of sharing that makes it a group property rather than an individual one.
The disagreement between Binmore and the “behaviouralists” concerns mainly the kind of reciprocity mechanisms that sustain cooperation in and out of the experimental laboratory. Although Binmore’s scepticism concerning Strong Reciprocity is justified, his case for Weak Reciprocity and the long-run convergence to Nash equilibria is unsupported by laboratory evidence. Part of the reason is that laboratory evidence alone cannot solve the reciprocity controversy, and researchers should pay more attention to field data. As an example, I briefly illustrate a historical case (...) suggesting that the institutions that foster cooperation in the real world rely on Weak Reciprocity mechanisms such as those that feature prominently in Binmore’s story. (shrink)
Analytical philosophy has been challenged by experimental approaches that make use of, among other things, cognitive science methods. In this paper we illustrate the benefits of merging philosophy with neuroscience, using an example of research in the foundations of social science. We argue that designing novel experiments to answer specific philosophical questions has several advantages compared to relying passively on neuroscientists' data. In this particular case, the data redirect attention towards topics ? such as inductive reasoning ? that are relatively (...) overlooked by mainstream social neuroscience. (shrink)
This is a slightly longer version of an entry prepared for the 2nd edition of The New Palgrave Dictionary of Economics, edited by Steven Durlauf and Lawrence Blume (Palgrave-Macmillan, forthcoming). Since the New Palgrave does not include acknowledgments, I should use this chance to thank Roger Backhouse, Philippe Fontaine, Daniel Kahneman, Kyu Sang Lee, Ivan Moscati, and Vernon Smith for their help and suggestions in preparing this paper.
Mutualistic theory explains convincingly the prevalence of fairness norms in small societies of foragers and in large contemporary democratic societies. However, it cannot explain the U-shaped curve of egalitarianism in human history. A theory based on bargaining power is able to provide a more general account and to explain mutualism as a special case. According to this approach, social norms may be more variable and malleable than Baumard et al. suggest.
The failure of models based on rational expectations to explain the ‘boom and bust’ of financial markets does not support Soros' critique of mainstream economics or his call for a theoretical revolution. Contrary to what Soros says, standard rational choice theory has the conceptual resources to analyse reflexivity. The dynamic of feedback loops for example can be described by simple models based on multiple equilibria and informational cascades. The problem is that agents and theorists sometimes lack the information required to (...) identify equilibria and tipping points. (shrink)
Clear-cut designs have a number of methodological virtues, with respect to internal and external validity, which I illustrate by means of informal causal analysis. In contrast, a more uniform experimental practice across disciplines may not lead to progress if causal relations in the human sciences are highly dependent on the details of the context.
Gerald Allen Cohen was one of the most influential political philosophers of the latter half of the twentieth century. When he died in 2009 Cohen left behind not only a short book and various unpublished papers but an intellectual legacy that will remain alive for many years. Economics and Philosophy initially planned to organize a review symposium devoted to Cohen's posthumous publications . However, the reviews became articles and the original project turned into a larger symposium in memory of Cohen. (...) The editors would like to thank Ian Carter, Paula Casal, Serena Olsaretti and Andrew Williams for working with us on that project as it gradually took shape. We all believe that this is a fitting way to honour a remarkable philosophical career inspired by an unrelenting political passion. (shrink)
The auctions of the Federal Communication Commission, designed in 1994 to sell spectrum licences, are one of the few widely acclaimed and copied cases of economic engineering to date. This paper includes a detailed narrative of the process of designing, testing and implementing the FCC auctions, focusing in particular on the role played by game theoretical modelling and laboratory experimentation. Some general remarks about the scope, interpretation and use of rational choice models open and conclude the paper.
Gerald Allen Cohen was one of the most influential political philosophers of the latter half of the twentieth century. When he died in 2009 Cohen left behind not only a short book and various unpublished papers but an intellectual legacy that will remain alive for many years. Economics and Philosophy initially planned to organize a review symposium devoted to Cohen's posthumous publications. However, the reviews became articles and the original project turned into a larger symposium in memory of Cohen. The (...) editors would like to thank Ian Carter, Paula Casal, Serena Olsaretti and Andrew Williams for working with us on that project as it gradually took shape. We all believe that this is a fitting way to honour a remarkable philosophical career inspired by an unrelenting political passion. (shrink)