Prof. Dr Bernd Lahno

Alumni Senior Fellow

Research Project at the Centre

Norms and Rules as a Foundation of Social Cooperation

Rational Choice Theory (RC) has lost most of its glamour from the 1980s. However, it is still the most refined and sophisticated theory of social behavior and, without doubt, it does have some explanatory power in different fields of social interaction. This project is an attempt to contribute to the critical assessment of RC and its limits, to the exploration of potential refinement or radical reform of RC in search for a powerful and appropriate theory of social cooperation. It builds on previous work on rule-following behavior and social norms in which I argued that classical RC cannot on itself account for social norms but may possibly be supplemented by a suitable theory that introduces norms as equilibrium selection devices.

The project comprises three parts. In the first part on strategic problems of information transmission I explore the potential and the limits of communicative cooperation in simple game theoretic settings. I focus on situations in which a person is confronted with the – possibly conflicting – testimonial statements of different individuals (experts). First analyses show that following the majority is not necessarily good advice and competition ('the market') is not necessarily conducive to truth.

In the second part I investigate one of the most exciting and promising developments within the theory of choice: Robert Sugden's Theory of Team Reasoning. The theory breaks with fundamental axioms of RC, in particular with methodological individualism. Using techniques from experimental economics I explore its explanatory and predictive power in contexts characterized by a problem of coordination. RC analysis has traditionally played a considerable role in modern social contract theory. Thus, the increasing skepticism towards the RC perspective on social cooperation has stimulated a fresh debate about contractarianism.

In the third part of the project I invite leading scholars from social contract theory and their critics to contribute to a re-evaluation of the idea of the social contract in a 'special topic' that I edit with Geoffrey Brennan from ANU in RMM, an open access journal at the intersection of economics and philosophy (see:


February 2013 – January 2014