Ludwig Wittgenstein

Ludwig Wittgenstein, Philosophical Investigations, Blackwell, Oxford, 1958 [1951].

It is correct to say 'I know what you are thinking', and wrong to say 'I know what I am thinking'.
(A whole cloud of philosophy condensed into a drop of grammar) [222]


Jean-Jacques Rousseau

Jean-Jacques Rousseau, Letter to M. D'Alembert on the Theatre, 1758.

Do we not know that all the passions are sisters and that one alone suffices for arousing a thousand, and that to combat one by the other is only the way to make the heart more sensitive to them all? The only instrument which serves to purge them is reason, and I have already said that reason has no effect in the theatre. It is true that we do not share the feelings of all the characters; for since their interests are opposed, the author must indeed make us prefer one of them; otherwise, we would have no contact at all with the play. But far from choosing, for that reason, the passions which he wants to make us like, he is forced to choose those which we like already. What I have said of the sorts of entertainment ought to be understood even more of the interest which is made dominant in them. [21]


Adam Smith

Adam Smith, The Wealth of Nations, 1776.

Every individual... indeed, neither intends to promote the public interest, nor knows how much he is promoting it. By preferring the support of domestic to that of foreign industry, he intends only his own security; and by directing that industry in such a manner as its produce may be of the greatest value, he intends only his own gain, and he is in this, as in many other cases, led by an invisible hand to promote an end which was no part of his intention. [Book IV Chapter II]


Beryl Crowe

Beryl Crowe, "The Tragedy of the Commons Revisited" (1969), ed. Garrett Hardin and John Baden, Managing the Commons, San Fransisco, W.H. Freeman and Company, 1977.

The life cycle for all of the attempts to develop regulatory policies is launched by an outcry so widespread and demanding that it generates enough political force to bring about the establishment of a regulatory agency to insure the equitable, just and rational distribution of the advantages among all holders of interest in the commons. This phase is followed by the symbolic reassurance of the offended as the agency goes into operation, developing a period of political quiescence among the great majority of those who hold a general but unorganized interest in the commons. Once this political quiescence has developed, the highly organized and specifically interested groups who wish to make incursions into the commons bring sufficient pressure to bear through other political processes to convert the agency to the protection and furthering of their interests. In the last phase even staffing of the regulating agency is accomplished by drawing the agency administrators from the ranks of the regulated. [61]

[Cycle of regulatory co-optation]


Garrett Hardin

Garrett Hardin, "The Tragedy of the Commons" (1968), ed. Garrett Hardin and John Baden, Managing the Commons, San Fransisco, W.H. Freeman and Company, 1977.

As a rational being, each herdsman seeks to maximize his gain. Explicitly or implicitly, more or less consciously, he asks, 'What is the utility to me of adding one more animal to my herd?' This utility has one negative and one positive component.
1. The positive component is a function of the increment of one animal. Since the herdsman receives all the proceeds from the sale of the additional animal, the positive utility is nearly +1.
2. The negative component is a function of the additional overgrazing created by one more animal. Since, however, the effects of overgrazing are shared by all the herdsmen, the negative utility for any particular decision-making herdsman is only a fraction of -1.
Adding together the component partial utilities, the rational herdsman concludes that the only sensible course for him to pursue is to add another animal to his herd. And another... But this is the conclusion reached by each and every rational herdsman sharing a commons. Therein is the tragedy. Each man is locked into a system that compels him to increase his herd without limit - in a world that is limited. Ruin is the destination toward which all men rush, each pursuing his own best interest in a society that believes in the freedom of the commons. Freedom in a commons bring ruin to all. [20]

That morality is system-sensitive escaped the attention of most codifiers of ethics in the past. 'Thou shalt not...' is the form of traditional ethical directives which make no allowance for particular circumstances. The laws of our society follow the pattern of ancient ethics, and therefore are poorly suited to governing a complex, crowded, changeable world. Our epicyclic solution is to augment statutory law with administrative law. Since it is practically impossible to spell out all the conditions under which it is safe to burn trash in the back yard or to run an automobile without smog-control, by law we delegate the details to bureaus. The result is administrative law, which is rightly feared for an ancient reason - Quis custodiet ipsos custodes? - Who shall watch the watchers themselves? John Adams said that we must have a 'government of laws and not men'. Bureau administrators, trying to evaluate the morality of acts in the total system, are singularly liable to corruption, producing a government by men, not laws.
Prohibition is easy to legislate (though not necessarily to enforce); but how do we legislate temperance? Experience indicates that it can be accomplished best through the mediation of administrative law. We limit possibilities unnecessarily if we suppose that the sentiment of Quis custodiet denies us the use of administrative law. We should rather retain the phrase as a perpetual reminder of fearful dangers we cannot avoid. The great challenge facing us now is to invent the corrective feedbacks that are needed to keep custodians honest. We must find ways to legitimate the needed authority of both the custodians and the corrective feedbacks. [23]

The social arrangements that produce responsibility are arrangements that create coercion, of some sort. [26]

The only kind of coercion I recommend is mutual coercion, mutually agreed upon by the majority of the people affected. [27]

We institute and (grumblingly) support taxes and other coercive devices to escape the horror of the commons. [27]

When men mutually agreed to pass laws against robbing, mankind became more free, not less so. Individuals locked into the logic of the commons are free only to bring on universal ruin; once they see the necessity of mutual coercion, they become free to pursue other goals. [29]


William Forster Lloyd

William Forster Lloyd, "On the Checks to Population" (1833), ed. Garrett Hardin and John Baden, Managing the Commons, San Fransisco, W.H. Freeman and Company, 1977.

But in a community of good, where the children are maintained at public tables, or where each family takes according to its necessities out of the common stock, these difficulties attending the maintenance of a family are removed from the individual. They spread themselves, and overflow the whole surface of society, and press equally on every part. All may determine their conduct by the consideration of the present only. All are at liberty to follow the bent of their inclinations in an early marriage. But, as we have already seen, it is impossible to provide an adequate supply of food for all who can be born. [10]

Each, therefore, will feel ill effects, corresponding precisely, in character and quantity, with the consequences of his own conduct. Yet they will not be the identical effects flowing from that conduct; but, being a portion of the accumulated effects resulting from the whole conduct of the society in general, would, therefore, still be felt, though the conduct of the individual should be changed. Thus it is that the universal distress fails to suggest to individuals any motive for moral restraint. [10]


Anatol Rapoport

Anatol Rapoport, N-Person Game Theory: concepts and applications, Ann Arbor, University of Michigan Press, 1970.

A strategy, by definition, involves foreseeing all the possible situations which may arise in the course of a game. Their number is, to be sure, super-astronomical in all but very trivial games. The 'rational player,' as he is defined in game theory, has unlimited memory capacity and unlimited skill of computation. Hence, by choosing a strategy before the game begins, he is already exhibiting as much flexibility as is possible under the rules of the game. For this reason, the 'rational player' gains nothing in flexibility by deferring decisions. [56]

In many non-constant-sum games both players can get more in some outcomes which are not equalibria than in others which are. In order to realize those outcomes which are better for both players, the two must choose their strategies jointly, and this requires some sort of agreement between the players. It stands to reason that if the players are rational, and if the situation allows the concluding of an agreement benefiting both players, it will be concluded. However, the coordinated strategies which benefit both players (in comparison with the uncoordinated ones) may be chosen in many ways, some choices favoring one player, some the other. The 'solution' of the game then involves the determination of a reasonable compromise. [65]