The Soritical Centipede

Terry Horgan, Nathan Ballantyne, Brian Fiala

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

1 Scopus citations


Two philosophical questions arise about rationality in centipede games that are logically prior to attempts to apply the formal tools of game theory to this topic. First, given that the players have common knowledge of mutual rationality and common knowledge that they are each motivated solely to maximize their own profits, is there a backwards-induction argument that (i) employs only familiar non-technical concepts about rationality, (ii) leads to the conclusion that the first player is rationally obligated to end the game at the first step, (iii) is deductively valid, (iv) employs premises all of which are prima facie highly plausible, and (v) is prima facie sound (in virtue of features (iii) and (iv))? Second, if there is such an argument, then is it actually sound, or is it instead defective somehow despite being prima facie sound? Addressing these two questions is our project. We present a backwards-induction argument that is prima facie sound; we argue that it is an instance of the notorious sorites paradox, and hence that the concepts of rational obligatoriness and rational permissibility are vague; and we briefly address the potential consequences of all this for the foundations of game theory and decision theory.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)491-510
Number of pages20
Issue number2
StatePublished - Jun 2019

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Philosophy


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