Prisoner's mistrust

Ratio 20 (1):57–70 (2007)
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The standard, non‐repeated prisoner's dilemma poses no true dilemma about rationality, we argue. What the prisoners ought rationally to do, unless they are selfless, depends on the relationship of trust that they have or lack with one another. This helps to diffuse the apparent conflict between individual and collective rationality. If the prisoners have reason to trust one another, pursuing a joint strategy would be rational for them. In the absence of trust, pursuing an individual strategy would be rational. The solution that is supposed to be puzzling – because each prisoner confessing is worse for both than the alternative on which both remain silent – is simply the rational solution for persons who have no reason to trust one another. Philosophers have been misled by the apparent availability of the better alternative. Collective rationality is not relevant for persons who do not stand in a trusting relationship. When they do, there is no unresolved conflict between their individual and collective points of view.1.



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Author Profiles

Erin Kelly
University of Colorado, Boulder
Lionel K. McPherson
Tufts University

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