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Prof. Cailin O'Connor (UC, Irvine)

Friday, April 07, 2023, 03:00pm - 05:00pm

Why Natural Social Contracts are Not Fair

Abstract: Many theorists have employed game theory to model the emergence of stable social norms, or natural “social contracts”. One branch of this literature uses bargaining games to show why many societies have norms and rules for fairness. In cultural evolutionary models, fair bargaining emerges endogenously because it is an efficient way to divide resources. But these models miss an important element of real human societies – divisions into groups or social categories. Once such groups are added to cultural evolutionary models, fairness is no longer the expected outcome. Instead “discriminatory norms” often emerge where one group systematically gets more when dividing resources. I show why the addition of categories to bargaining models leads to unfairness, and discuss the role of power and minority status in this process. I also address how categories might emerge to support inequity, and the possibility of modeling social change. Altogether this work emphasizes that if one wishes to understand the naturalistic emergence of social contracts, one must account for the presence of categorical divisions, and unfairness, as well as for norms of fairness.

Location Philosophy Seminar Room