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A Matter of Interpretation: Bargaining over Ambiguous Contracts


  • Simon Grant

    () (Department of Economics, Rice University)

  • Jeff Kline

    () (Department of Economics, University of Queensland)

  • John Quiggin

    () (Department of Economics, University of Queensland)


We present a formal treatment of contracting in the face of ambiguity. The central idea is that boundedly rational individuals will not always interpret the same situation in the same way. More specifically, even with well defined contracts, the precise actions to be taken by each party to the contract might be disputable. Taking this potential for dispute into account, we analyze the effects of ambiguity on contracting. We find that risk averse agents will engage in ambiguous contracts for risk sharing reasons. We provide an application where ambiguity motivates the use of a liquidated damages contract.

Suggested Citation

  • Simon Grant & Jeff Kline & John Quiggin, 2009. "A Matter of Interpretation: Bargaining over Ambiguous Contracts," Risk & Uncertainty Working Papers WPR09_3, Risk and Sustainable Management Group, University of Queensland.
  • Handle: RePEc:rsm:riskun:r09_3

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    References listed on IDEAS

    1. Sujoy Mukerji & Jean-Marc Tallon, 2001. "Ambiguity Aversion and Incompleteness of Financial Markets," Review of Economic Studies, Oxford University Press, vol. 68(4), pages 883-904.
    2. Bernheim, B Douglas & Whinston, Michael D, 1998. "Incomplete Contracts and Strategic Ambiguity," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 88(4), pages 902-932, September.
    3. Oliver Hart & John Moore, 1999. "Foundations of Incomplete Contracts," Review of Economic Studies, Oxford University Press, vol. 66(1), pages 115-138.
    4. Heifetz, Aviad & Meier, Martin & Schipper, Burkhard C., 2006. "Interactive unawareness," Journal of Economic Theory, Elsevier, vol. 130(1), pages 78-94, September.
    5. Ilya Segal, 1999. "Complexity and Renegotiation: A Foundation for Incomplete Contracts," Review of Economic Studies, Oxford University Press, vol. 66(1), pages 57-82.
    6. Gilboa, Itzhak & Schmeidler, David, 1989. "Maxmin expected utility with non-unique prior," Journal of Mathematical Economics, Elsevier, vol. 18(2), pages 141-153, April.
    7. Kim-Sau Chung & Oliver Board, 2007. "Object-Based Unawareness," Working Papers 2007-2, University of Minnesota, Department of Economics, revised 24 Aug 2007.
    8. Eric Maskin & Jean Tirole, 1999. "Unforeseen Contingencies and Incomplete Contracts," Review of Economic Studies, Oxford University Press, vol. 66(1), pages 83-114.
    9. Grant, Simon & Kajii, Atsushi, 1995. "A Cardinal Characterization of the Rubinstein-Safra-Thomson Axiomatic Bargaining Theory," Econometrica, Econometric Society, vol. 63(5), pages 1241-1249, September.
    10. Mukerji, Sujoy, 1998. "Ambiguity Aversion and Incompleteness of Contractual Form," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 88(5), pages 1207-1231, December.
    11. Chew Soo Hong & Jacob S. Sagi, 2006. "Event Exchangeability: Probabilistic Sophistication Without Continuity or Monotonicity," Econometrica, Econometric Society, vol. 74(3), pages 771-786, May.
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    Cited by:

    1. Halpern, Joseph Y. & Kets, Willemien, 2015. "Ambiguous language and common priors," Games and Economic Behavior, Elsevier, vol. 90(C), pages 171-180.

    More about this item


    ambiguity; bounded rationality; expected uncertain utility; incomplete contracts; liquidated damages.;

    JEL classification:

    • D80 - Microeconomics - - Information, Knowledge, and Uncertainty - - - General
    • D82 - Microeconomics - - Information, Knowledge, and Uncertainty - - - Asymmetric and Private Information; Mechanism Design

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