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The Emergence of Cooperation among Egoists


  • Axelrod, Robert


This article investigates the conditions under which cooperation will emerge in a world of egoists without central authority. This problem plays an important role in such diverse fields as political philosophy, international politics, and economic and social exchange. The problem is formalized as an iterated Prisoner's Dilemma with pairwise interaction among a population of individuals.Results from three approaches are reported: the tournament approach, the ecological approach, and the evolutionary approach. The evolutionary approach is the most general since all possible strategies can be taken into account. A series of theorems is presented which show: (1) the conditions under which no strategy can do any better than the population average if the others are using the reciprocal cooperation strategy of TIT FOR TAT, (2) the necessary and sufficient conditions for a strategy to be collectively stable, and (3) how cooperation can emerge from a small cluster of discriminating individuals even when everyone else is using a strategy of unconditional defection.

Suggested Citation

  • Axelrod, Robert, 1981. "The Emergence of Cooperation among Egoists," American Political Science Review, Cambridge University Press, vol. 75(2), pages 306-318, June.
  • Handle: RePEc:cup:apsrev:v:75:y:1981:i:02:p:306-318_17

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