Diversity, tolerance, and the social contract

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

15 Scopus citations


Philosophers and social scientists have recently turned to game theory and agent-based models to better understand social contract formation. The stag hunt game is an idealization of social contract formation. Using the stag hunt game, we attempt to determine what, if any, barrier diversity is to the formation of an efficient social contract. We uncover a deep connection between tolerance, diversity, and the social contract. We investigate a simple model in which individuals possess salient traits and behave cooperatively when the difference between their trait and the trait of their counterpart is less than their ‘tolerance level’. If traits are fixed and correspond to permanent or semipermanent features of the individual, such as religion or race, social contract formation is a remote possibility. If traits are malleable, social contract formation is possible but comes at the steep cost of diversity and tolerance, that is, individuals are unwilling to cooperate with those much different from themselves. Yet homogeneity and intolerance are not a long-term feature of the population. Over time mutations allow for increasingly tolerant agents to prosper, thereby ushering in trait diversity. In the end, all reap the benefits of cooperation.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)429-448
Number of pages20
JournalPolitics, Philosophy and Economics
Issue number4
StatePublished - Nov 1 2015
Externally publishedYes


  • cultural evolution
  • diversity
  • expanding circle
  • game theory
  • social contract theory
  • the stag hunt
  • tolerance

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Philosophy
  • Sociology and Political Science
  • Economics and Econometrics


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