The Evolution of Rights

Apr 18 12:00–1:30pm
Common Room (#136), 2 Divinity Ave., Cambridge

Zhu Wanrun (Associate Professor, Political Science Department, Jilin University; Visiting Scholar, Harvard-Yenching Institute)
Chair/discussant: Thomas Scanlon (Alford Professor of Natural Religion, Moral Philosophy, and Civil Polity, Emeritus, Harvard University)

Our time is an “Age of Rights” where the discourse of rights plays a predominant role in every aspect of social life. As a focus of political philosophy for centuries, there is a vast literature on rights, most of it being normative studies. Here we take another approach: game theory. Since the 1970s until now, scholars have been trying to formalize rights into game terms, but have not yet succeeded. As a first step, a new method to formalize rights will be tried and tested. With this newly available formalization, we can apply the rich literature in game theory to shed some light on the study of rights. Specifically, three interrelated questions lie at the center of our inquiry:

  1. Can rights emerge among egoists without a central authority through the evolutionary process?
  2. If yes, how stable can rights be?
  3. Is there a way to maintain rights at a minimal cost?