The Success of Hyperrational Utility Maximizers in Iterated Prisoner's Dilemma: A Response to Sobel*

Robert A. Curtisa1

a1 Trinity University

Several recent commentators have suggested that for fully rational agents who find themselves in iterated prisoner's dilemmas of indefinite length, co-operation is the rational strategy. Their argument is that these fully rational agents can be taught, through the co-operative actions of other agents, to bypass the dominant move of noncooperation and co-operate instead. The proponents of the “teaching strategy” seem to have ignored the compelling argument of Jordan Howard Sobel. While the teaching argument may work for agents who are less than purely rational, Sobel has pointed out that hyperrational utility maximizers cannot be taught; they reason deductively, not inductively, as the “teaching argument” requires.


* I would like to thank two referees for Dialogue for their helpful comments on this paper. I am especially grateful to Peter French who has stimulated me at each stage of this paper. My work on this paper was partly supported by the National Endowment for the Humanities.