Sascha Jane Patterson Harvie Professor of Social Thought and Comparative Ethics

Rationality and Coordination
Cambridge University Press, 1997.

This book explores how individual actions coordinate to produce unintended social consequences. In the past this phenomenon has been explained as the outcome of rational, self-interested individual behaviour. Professor Bicchieri shows that this is in no way a satisfying explanation. She discusses how much knowledge is needed by agents in order to coordinate successfully. If the answer is unbounded knowledge, then a whole variety of paradoxes arise. If the answer is very little knowledge, then there seems hardly any possibility of attaining coordination. The solution to coordination and cooperation is for agents to learn about each other. The author concludes that rationality must be supplemented by models of learning and by an evolutionary account of how social order (i.e. spontaneous coordinated behaviour) can persist.


The main achievement of this book is to show how the central project of classical game theory – to predict the outcomes of interactions between rational agents – fails. If this conclusion no longer seems radical, that is only because of the earlier work of people like Cristina Bicchieri, who questioned the fundamental assumptions of the theory when doing so was not fashionable.

- Robert Sugden, University of East Anglia

This book is well informed and well written. Bicchieri is familiar with contemporary work in economics and game theory. The book, however, is written in a way that does not presuppose any background in these areas. I am in general agreement with Bicchieri's criticisms of traditional game theory, and I believe that the themes of bounded rationality, learning dynamics, and cultural evolution should and will play an increasingly important role in game theory and its applications in philosophy, political theory and economics. This is a book which deserves to be widely read and discussed.

- Brian Skyrms, University of California, Irvine

This book can be recommended to philosophers with an interest in game theory as a discipline. It sticks squarely to the project of modeling social interactions in terms of the preference rankings and beliefs of individuals, give or take a push or two from evolutionary mechanisms.

- Margaret Gilbert, University of Connecticut, Storr

In the present volume, Bicchieri succeeds in explaining the recent developments in game theory in a largely nontechnical way, and by doing so she is able to point to several difficulties in the foundations of the theory. The book is of interest to social scientists in general, but philosophers should find it especially stimulating.

- Eric Van Damme, Center, Tilburg University

This book gives a clear overview of recent game theoretic work on the issue how individual players can reason towards an equilibrium. The central question is how much knowledge players should be endowed with for them to be able to make the inferences that lead them to choose equilibrium strategies. The title of the book, Rationality and Coordination, is then easily explained by noting that an equilibrium of a game can be interpreted as an outcome in which the individual strategies of the players are coordinated. A remarkable feature of the book is that the reader hardly needs any knowledge of game theory in order to follow the arguments: concepts like subgame perfection, proper equilibrium, and forward induction are first introduced before being scrutinised. Thus, the book can be used as an introduction to game theory for students who are interested in the (epistemological) foundations of this discipline.

- Maarten C. W. Janssen, Erasmus University Rotterdam

Cristina Bicchieri, professor of philosophy and social and decision sciences at Carnegie Mellon University, has written a lucid and thoughtful study exploring the nature of the rationality assumption as it is employed in economics in general and in game theory specifically. ... Game theory has forced social scientists in general and economists in particular to confront the issue of rationality. Until we explore systematically the nature of what we mean by that term we shall make little further progress in the social sciences. The author of this study has made an important contribution by intelligently exploring the issues that must be confronted.

- Douglass C. North, Washington University, St. Louis

In her book Rationality and Coordination (Cambridge University Press 1994) Cristina Bicchieri brings together (and adds to) her own contributions to game theory and the philosophy of economics published in various journals in the period 1987-1992. The book, however, is not a collection of separate articles but rather a homogeneous unit organized around some central themes in the foundations of non-cooperative game theory. Bicchieri's exposition is admirably clear and well organized. Somebody with a good knowledge of game theory would probably benefit mainly from reading the second part of Chapter 3 (from Section 3.6 onward) and Chapter 4. On the other hand, those who have had little exposure to game theory, would certainly benefit from reading the entire book.

- Giacomo Bonanno, University of California, Davis

... The beauty of this book is its capacity to link modal logic and evolutionary biology in the attempt to deal with the contradictions and lacunae of classical game theory. She does not provide a neat, logically tight, argument, but rather experiments with a number of fruitful ideas that draw her in different, and often incompatible, directions. ...

- Herbert Gintis [download full review]