A Stoic's Game Theory

A Stoic's Game Theory
Do not wish that all things will go well with you, but that you will go well with all things.

An interesting book that I read last year was 'Enchiridion of Epictetus'. It's based on the discourses of ancient Greek philosopher Epictetus.

Recently I read 'The Manual: A Philosopher's Guide to Life', a different rendition of those same discourses.

It's deep for a book that's only 60 pages in length. It was compiled during 2nd century AD by Epictetus' student Arrian. Many of its ideas still make sense today.

Epictetus acquired a passion for Stoicism, a school of philosophy that taught about personal ethics. He emphasized on what's in our control, what's not, and how 'virtue is sufficient for happiness.' These teachings offered guidance for remaining calm, yet not by shielding ourselves from the realities of life.

Stoicism talks of an effective span of our thoughts and actions. A philosophy that makes us think about our ethics, and what we build on top. It gives us the tools to find simple answers within ourselves, allowing us to make better decisions and live a 'happier' life.

One of the subjects from Epictetus' discourses is about duties.

Duties are universally measured by relations. Is anyone a father? If so, it is implied that the children should take care of him, submit to him in everything, patiently listen to his reproaches, his correction. But he is a bad father. Is you naturally entitled, then, to a good father? No, only to a father. Is a brother unjust? Well, keep your own situation towards him. Consider not what he does, but what you are to do to keep your own faculty of choice in a state conformable to nature. For another will not hurt you unless you please. You will then be hurt when you think you are hurt. In this manner, therefore, you will find, from the idea of a neighbor, a citizen, a general, the corresponding duties if you accustom yourself to contemplate the several relations.

It's a simple notion, that suggests we should partake and cooperate in duties for our inner circle of family and friends, as well as the outer circle of profession and society. The difficult part is that it asks us to avoid our expectations in others response, so that we can keep a clear conscience and inner harmony.

Cooperation as the basis of our duties reminded me of a tweet I read last year.

Should we cooperate knowing that there may be an unfavorable end-result or we may get taken advantage of, for the sake of fulfilling duties of any relation – personal or professional?

It's an evolutionary clash between morality and self-interest.

People feel vulnerable of being 'used' in a situation. When our immediate interpretation tells us that there's no immediate or near-future return, but probable loss – we hesitate, retaliate or outright defect.

Cooperation in game theory makes broader sense in the context of philosophy and Stoicism.

In game theory's way of Prisoner's Dilemma, equivalent retaliation (tit-for-tat) is effective in negotiation and conflict resolution. We cooperate first, then subsequently replicate an opponent's previous action. But this strategy is played to tie, not to win.

Going by Stoicism, our cooperation is in our control, but other's cooperation isn't, so we should focus on our relative duties without worrying about the outcome.

It's easier said than done.

Our thoughts and action in response are affected by a big factor: trust. Trust is built over time by cooperation, and deeper cooperation requires more trust.

Mostly, people cooperate naturally in high-trust groups of family and close friends.

In low-trust groups, people often suffer from a cognitive bias of seeing situations as zero-sum, that is perceiving situations where one person's gain would be another's loss. There's little or no possibility in their mind that long-term gains can come from mutual cooperation. It stifles the growth of such groups.

When we cooperate without expecting much in return, it also propagates goodwill. Equivalent cooperation might even occur at some point later, simply because people are generally nice enough to return a 'favor'. Defectors who don't cooperate in the short-term may come around to cooperate in the long run. Spectators on the fence may become cooperators as they're motivated by the goodwill.

Betting on the greater good compounds when there's trust, and the group becomes better together over the long haul.

A tribe is formed.

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