Just Society as a Fair Game: John Rawls and Game Theory in the 1950s


I explore the influence of game theory on the political philosopher John Rawls as a way of analyzing the character of his democratic thought. Recent narratives bring Rawls closer to direct democracy as a result of game theory’s influence. I argue that game theory prompted creative, organic developments in Rawls’s political framework rather than shaping it. It prompted Rawls to emphasize autonomy and fairness, leading him to the analogy between a just society and a fair game. And it prompted thought experiments that analyzed our considered judgments. This was an idealized analysis unconnected to the vision of direct democracy.