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Michael W. Macy (1998) 'Reply'

Journal of Artificial Societies and Social Simulation vol. 1, no. 1, <https://www.jasss.org/1/1/4a.html>

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Received: 2-Jan-1998      Published: 3-Jan-1998

This is a contribution to the Forum section, which features debates, controversies and work in progress.


cooperation, altruism, rationality, cognition

I thank Prof. Castelfranchi for his useful and provocative response to my Forum contribution. It may be useful to revisit his main points:
  1. "Rationality is not selfish." I happily agree that rationality need not imply egoism (which, I might add, is not the same thing as "selfishness," a term that I do not use). I also agree that many economists and game theorists associate rationality and self-interest. A main point of my paper is to argue that this conflation is difficult to avoid if the individual is the unit of analysis. However, a rule-based theory of behavior more readily accommodates the assumption that egoism is a variable, not a constant. As I said in the paper, "Solidary expressions of identity can thus be reduced to rational self-interest, but it is the evolutionary interest of the rule, not the interest of its agent, that is the effective cause." Prof. Castelfranchi has nicely elaborated this point.
  2. "Neither altruism nor cooperation are necessarily unreasoned and unplanned." I quickly agree. But neither are they necessarily premeditated. Unfortunately, most theoretical research on cooperation, especially by economists, analytical game-theorists, and rational choice theorists, has largely overlooked "everyday cooperation," but, happily, that is beginning to change. As I noted in the paper, "computational models of emergent cooperation represent an important advance in the effort to explain the creation and recreation of social order in everyday life." Notably, JASSS is both a sign of the times and an important resource for further advances.
  3. "The intentional actions of the agents give rise to functional, unaware collective phenomena." I agree, but hasten to add that not all behavior is instrumentally motivated. Moreover, where behavior is selected by unintended consequences, it may not matter what other ends, if any, the actor may have had in mind (or even whether the "ends" may turn out to be little more than inventive post hoc rationalizations).
  4. "Cooperation emerges from the reflex of the past in the mirror of the future. The action remains anticipatory and goal-directed, but is influenced by (possibly not understood) lessons of the past." I agree in spirit but would turn it about: Cooperation emerges from the reflection of the future in the mirror of the past. Certainly, I do not claim that human beings are not capable of anticipating the future. Even pigeons anticipate the food pellet when they press the lever. And quite clearly, the anticipated benefits of reciprocity may explain why cooperation in Prisoner's Dilemma requires that the game be repeated. Indeed, that is the conventional wisdom. But is this deliberate cooperation the whole story? As I said in the paper, "Of course, we sometimes choose to cooperate deliberately, just as we sometimes 'choose our words carefully.' But mostly we do not think before we speak, we just talk. Similarly, we do not choose to cooperate, we simply know to take turns, stand in line, go to the polls, speak softly, show courtesy, defer to others, reply promptly, tell the truth, and so on." This "unthinking cooperation" depends not on the incentives created by the prospect of future interaction but on changes in the probability distribution of strategies as agents adapt to recurring experience. Computational models of adaptive agents can help us uncover these dynamics, not because the agents mimic the way we calculate expected returns on competing investments, but because they mimic the way we sometimes do not.

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© Copyright Journal of Artificial Societies and Social Simulation, 1998