We learned in earlier discussions that according to Aristotle and Bentham, 
one’s happiness was the highest goal. Enter social contract. How does one ensure 
one’s self-interest when one has to compromise with another to achieve the goal? 
David Gauthier proposes that it is possible, offering the Prisoner’s Dilemma as 
an example.

 

According to the story of the Prisoner’s Dilemma, two people have been 
brought in for questioning, conducted separately, about a crime they are 
suspected to have committed. The police have solid evidence of a lesser crime 
that they committed, but need confessions in order to convict them on more 
serious charges. Each prisoner is told that if she cooperates with the police by 
informing on the other prisoner, then she will be rewarded by receiving a 
relatively light sentence of one year in prison, whereas her cohort will go to 
prison for ten years. If they both remain silent, then there will be no such 
rewards, and they can each expect to receive moderate sentences of two years. 
And if they both cooperate with police by informing on each other, then the 
police will have enough to send each to prison for five years. The dilemma then 
is this: in order to serve her own interests as well as possible, each prisoner 
reasons that no matter what the other does she is better off cooperating with 
the police by confessing. Each reasons: “If she confesses, then I should 
confess, thereby being sentenced to five years instead of ten. And if she does 
not confess, then I should confess, thereby being sentenced to one year instead 
of two. So, no matter what she does, I should confess.” The problem is that when 
each reason this way, they each confess, and each goes to prison for five years. 
However, had they each remained silent, thereby cooperating with each other 
rather than with the police, they would have spent only two years in prison.

 

(Note: For additional information, you can read more about Gauthier by 
copying the URL into your internet browser. 
(http://www.iep.utm.edu/soc-cont/#SH2a). It will take you to the Internet 
Encyclopedia of Philosophy. The link takes you to the beginning of a great 
article on social contract. The outline at the beginning shows that the 
discussion on Gauthier and the Prisoner’s Dilemma is in the middle of the 
article, in the “More Recent Theories” section, following Rawls. Gauthier 
comments on the idea that the Prisoner’s Dilemma shows that it is in an 
individual’s best interest to cooperate, even when it means that they will give 
up some individual freedom.)

addressing the following questions: in 800 words with references 

  1. Consider the concepts of utilitarianism, egoism, and social contract. What 
    would be the correct action for each prisoner according to each theory? How 
    would social contract apply? Would it produce the desired result?
  2. From your experience, is cooperation always in your best interest? Can you 
    share an example. Alternatively, to state it negatively, why do selfish, 
    self-centered people seem to prosper if cooperation is always in their best 
    interest?

 

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