Kantian Ethics and the Prisoners' Dilemma

Eastern Economic Journal, 2009

10 Pages Posted: 29 Sep 2008

See all articles by Mark D. White

Mark D. White

CUNY College of Staten Island

Date Written: April 2, 2008


The prisoners' dilemma game stands as a seminal case of the conflict between individual and collective rationality. Some scholars have suggested that Kantian duty-based ethics can prevent the suboptimal outcomes associated with the game. I argue that this claim is too strong, because Kant's moral theory does not entail specific duties requiring cooperation in prisoners' dilemma games. I support this argument in terms of Kant's categorical imperative, and also with reference to his distinction between perfect and imperfect duties.

Keywords: prisoners' dilemma, game theory, ethics, Immanuel Kant

JEL Classification: A13, C71

Suggested Citation

White, Mark D., Kantian Ethics and the Prisoners' Dilemma (April 2, 2008). Eastern Economic Journal, 2009, Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=1275007

Mark D. White (Contact Author)

CUNY College of Staten Island ( email )

Staten Island, NY
United States

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