Economics and Philosophy

Essays

Knowledge, Belief and Counterfactual Reasoning in Games

Robert Stalnakera1

a1 Massachusetts Institute of Technology

Deliberation about what to do in any context requires reasoning about what will or would happen in various alternative situations, including situations that the agent knows will never in fact be realized. In contexts that involve two or more agents who have to take account of each others' deliberation, the counterfactual reasoning may become quite complex. When I deliberate, I have to consider not only what the causal effects would be of alternative choices that I might make, but also what other agents might believe about the potential effects of my choices, and how their alternative possible actions might affect my beliefs. Counterfactual possibilities are implicit in the models that game theorists and decision theorists have developed – in the alternative branches in the trees that model extensive form games and the different cells of the matrices of strategic form representations – but much of the reasoning about those possibilities remains in the informal commentary on and motivation for the models developed. Puzzlement is sometimes expressed by game theorists about the relevance of what happens in a game ‘off the equilibrium path’: of what would happen if what is (according to the theory) both true and known by the players to be true were instead false.