Prof. Sanjay Reddy

Associate Professor of Economics, The New School for Social Research in New York, USA

Duration of Stay
June to July 2022

In cooperation with Prof. Dr. Rainer Forst

(c) Sanjay Reddy

Sanjay Reddy is an economist working at the intersection of economics, philosophy and politics, and deeply concerned with themes in global justice, development. well-being and related issues. I have been working on these questions for three decades.

Research Project title: Cooperation: Rational vs. Social

Research abstract
Is cooperation rational? On one account, which is the dominant one in the social sciences and in decision theory – based on “rational choice” based analyses of cooperation – cooperation is seen as being frequently irrational, even when all parties acting cooperatively would benefit each of them. This is because in some situations (for instance, the famous prisoner’s dilemma) acting cooperatively seems to require acting against one’s own interest, conceived in terms of concepts such as the “dominant strategy”.   The “rational” justification for acting cooperatively in such situations has generally, in this tradition, been based upon the idea that players faced with the same situation repeatedly would weigh the benefits of deviating from cooperation in the short term against the losses in the long term from other parties withdrawing their cooperation as a result. Cooperation sustained on the basis of such a calculation has been referred to in game theory as “trusting” behavior, but this seems a misnomer, since it appears to be merely “an encapsulation of self-interest”. As such, it cannot explain the decision to cooperate in a situation such as the (one shot) prisoner’s dilemma, in which standard rational choice theory would insist that cooperation is contrary to self-interest.  What, then, is trust, and what role does it have to play in cooperation? Can it also provide explanatory resources that go beyond the traditionally conceived  forms of “rational choice” theory? We might hypothesize that trust in the context of cooperation is defined by a reliance on a belief that others will act cooperatively (in a manner that may or may not be contingent upon one’s own actions). For cooperation to be underpinned by trust, then, is for the cooperating agents to possess a belief that others will cooperate, and for that belief to help to sustain their own acts of cooperation. Cooperation understood in this way is compatible with the game theoretic understanding of cooperation arising in repeated play on the basis of self-interest but is in no way dependent on that narrow idea. The question of how to explain cooperation (if it is thought to need explanation) is in this perspective displaced onto another question, which is that of how it is that trust comes to exist and to be warranted. The project develops and elaborates these ideas.

Publications (selection)
– Beyond Property or Beyond Piketty?, forthcoming in: British Journal of Sociology
– “Population Health, Economics and Ethics in The Age of Covid-19, in: BMJ Global Health, Vol. 5, Issue 7.
– What is an Explanation? Statistical Physics and Economics, in: European Physics Journal Special Topics, July 2020, Vol 229.