Knowledge, equilibrium and convention

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45 Scopus citations


There are two general classes of social conventions: conventions of coordination, and conventions of partial conflict. In coordination problems, the interests of the agents coincide, while in partial conflict problems, some agents stand to gain only if other agents unilaterally make certain sacrifices. Lewis' (1969) pathbreaking analysis of convention in terms of game theory focuses on coordination problems, and cannot accommodate partial conflict problems. In this paper, I propose a new game-theoretic definition of convention which generalizes previous game-theoretic definitions (Lewis 1969, Vanderschraaf 1995), and which can be used to characterize norms of justice in partial conflict situations. I argue that the key structural property necessary for a social arrangement to be a convention is that it be conditionally self-enforcing, in the sense that: (i) each agent has a decisive reason to follow her end of the arrangement given that she expects all to do likewise, (ii) given a different set of expectations, some agents would have had a decisive reason to deviate, and (iii) these facts are common knowledge. This leads to a definition of convention as a strict correlated equilibrium (Aumann 1974) together with appropriate common knowledge conditions. Examples are given in which it is shown how this more general account of convention can be used to analyze norms of justice as well as coordination problems.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)337-369
Number of pages33
Issue number3
StatePublished - 1998
Externally publishedYes

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Philosophy
  • Logic


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