Commons and Cognition
19 Theoretical Inquiries in Law 587 (2018)
31 Pages Posted: 18 Nov 2019
Date Written: 2018
Garrett Hardin’s Tragedy of the Commons describes the cognitive state of a hypothetical herder on a common grassy field, who calculates that he will benefit most by grazing his stock in full while suffering only a fraction of the lost grass, but if other herders act similarly the field will be decimated. Hardin’s herder is both ignorant of and indifferent to other herders and the field itself. Other commons theorists, however, suggest that the actors’ cognitive stances largely depend on the scale of the commons. Participants in the Prisoner’s Dilemma (a very small commons) appear to be dominated by distrust rather than ignorance or indifference. Participants in mid-sized commons—such as Hardin’s herders in real life—show some distrust, but also great knowledge and engagement in common pool management. Participants in the largest-scale commons issues, such as climate, are actually those most likely to exhibit the herder’s supposed ignorance and indifference. This article discusses the ways in which these different cognitive stances track the scale of collective action “tragedies” and concludes by discussing the cognitive aspects of climate change.
Keywords: Garrett Hardin, Tragedy of the Commons, Prisoner’s Dilemma, herder problem, scale of commons, cognition, climate change
Suggested Citation: Suggested Citation