Introduction to Political Theory

(Marvins-Underground-K-12) #1
basis), the concerns which motivated the work cannot be dismissed as irrelevant to
the contemporary world.
Hobbes was the first of the classic contract theorists – later important
contractarians are Locke, Rousseau and Kant. The contract tradition went into
decline around the end of the eighteenth century. John Rawls is credited with
reviving it in the second half of the twentieth century (see Chapter 4). There are
important differences between these thinkers, but there is a common, three-part
structure to a contract theory:

  1. a description of a situation in which there is no state;

  2. an outline of the procedure for either submitting to a state or agreeing to a certain
    set of coercively enforced political principles – this is the ‘contract’;

  3. a description of what is chosen – the state, or political institutions.
    Since our concern is with contractarianism rather than the details of specific
    political theories, we will employ a modern ‘rational choice’ treatment to explain
    the contract. Hobbes’s Leviathancan be interpreted as an attempt to solve what is
    called the ‘prisoner’s dilemma’. The prisoner’s dilemma is an imaginary ‘game’
    intended to represent, in a very pure form, moral (and political) relationships. We
    imagine two people arrested for a crime and interrogated separately. If both remain
    silent each will be convicted of a relatively minor offence, and spend a year in prison.
    If both confess, each will receive five years for a more serious offence. If one
    confesses but the other remains silent, then the confessor will go free, while the
    other will receive a ten-year sentence. Clearly, the actions of one affect the outcome
    for the other, as can be seen from the pay-off table:

Chapter 8 Liberalism 179

Second prisoner
Remains silent Confesses

First prisoner Remains silent 1, 1 10, 0
Confesses 0, 10 5, 5

1st preference 2nd preference 3rd preference 4th preference

First prisoner 0, 10 1, 1 5, 5 10, 0
Second prisoner 10, 0 1, 1 5, 5 0, 10

If we assume that the prisoners are purely self-interested then each will attempt to
achieve his first preference. The preference ordering of the first prisoner can be
tabulated as follows (the second line shows the implication for the second one):

It is not rational to remain silent while the other prisoner confesses, and so the
likely outcome is that each will confess, with the consequence that each will satisfy
only his third preference. What, however, makes the ‘game’ interesting is that each
could do better by agreeing to remain silent. The prisoner’s dilemma is a non-zero
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