We learned in earlier discussions that according to Aristotle and Bentham,
one’s happiness was the highest goal. Enter social contract. How does one ensure
one’s self-interest when one has to compromise with another to achieve the goal?
David Gauthier proposes that it is possible, offering the Prisoner’s Dilemma as
According to the story of the Prisoner’s Dilemma, two people have been
brought in for questioning, conducted separately, about a crime they are
suspected to have committed. The police have solid evidence of a lesser crime
that they committed, but need confessions in order to convict them on more
serious charges. Each prisoner is told that if she cooperates with the police by
informing on the other prisoner, then she will be rewarded by receiving a
relatively light sentence of one year in prison, whereas her cohort will go to
prison for ten years. If they both remain silent, then there will be no such
rewards, and they can each expect to receive moderate sentences of two years.
And if they both cooperate with police by informing on each other, then the
police will have enough to send each to prison for five years. The dilemma then
is this: in order to serve her own interests as well as possible, each prisoner
reasons that no matter what the other does she is better off cooperating with
the police by confessing. Each reasons: “If she confesses, then I should
confess, thereby being sentenced to five years instead of ten. And if she does
not confess, then I should confess, thereby being sentenced to one year instead
of two. So, no matter what she does, I should confess.” The problem is that when
each reason this way, they each confess, and each goes to prison for five years.
However, had they each remained silent, thereby cooperating with each other
rather than with the police, they would have spent only two years in prison.
(Note: For additional information, you can read more about Gauthier by
copying the URL into your internet browser.
(http://www.iep.utm.edu/soc-cont/#SH2a). It will take you to the Internet
Encyclopedia of Philosophy. The link takes you to the beginning of a great
article on social contract. The outline at the beginning shows that the
discussion on Gauthier and the Prisoner’s Dilemma is in the middle of the
article, in the “More Recent Theories” section, following Rawls. Gauthier
comments on the idea that the Prisoner’s Dilemma shows that it is in an
individual’s best interest to cooperate, even when it means that they will give
up some individual freedom.)
addressing the following questions: in 800 words with references
- Consider the concepts of utilitarianism, egoism, and social contract. What
would be the correct action for each prisoner according to each theory? How
would social contract apply? Would it produce the desired result?
- From your experience, is cooperation always in your best interest? Can you
share an example. Alternatively, to state it negatively, why do selfish,
self-centered people seem to prosper if cooperation is always in their best