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Hobbes predicts all

February 13, 2011

In Hobbe’s Leviathan, he discusses covenants and how they are upheld. Hobbes states that in order for man to be expected to perform his covenant, that is, to honor his part, the fear of punishment must outweigh the reward of breaching the covenant. This simple equation is still applicable today. A British game show, Golden Balls, employs the concepts perfectly. Just like the Prisoner Dilemma, two people are faced with the decision between sharing one outcome, or each individually having separate outcomes, one better, one worse.

Did the woman in the gameshow breach a covenant? If she did so, Hobbes would say it was because in her eyes, the only punishment of doing so, not receiving money, was not severe enough to deter her from the $100,ooo prize. However, if there was no contract, then the woman was simply taking what she had a right to, which according to Hobbes, is everything. I will argue that there was no covenant in place, as her and the male contestant both simply made promises to each other, and there was no “power to make him [or her] perform” as Hobbes would say.

With no covenant in place, it seems obvious that both people desire the prize in its entirety, and that both would try and take it. So why is the man so easily deceived by the woman? The answer is that the man is considering too many factors, as would all of us (except Hobbes of course.) Hobbes predicted that she would take the money, as she had a right for it. But she was a beautiful, young, nice lady. She promised she would split the money. The male fell victim to his previously conceived notions, and because of this, he doesn’t have $100,000. Society does not operate solely on covenants made and broken, and nor could it. Instead we must factor in all we know about who we are dealing with in negotiations. The man thought he had judged the situation properly, but in the end was out a lot of money.

This leads me to the main message of this post.  If ever on a gameshow resembling any variation of the prisoner problem, steal steal steal, and don’t feel bad, Hobbes says it’s OK.

  1. Jake Winn permalink
    February 13, 2011 10:43 PM

    Hey Jacob, I found this video and post to be extremely interesting. I think you do a great job of taking a modern game show and comparing it to Hobbes state of nature and theory of the social contract. You represent Hobbes belief that without the power of the sword there is no fear which binds a person to a covenant. In this case the convenant was verbal with no consequence other than money lose and in the end that verbal convenant as Hobbes believes proves to be meaningless. After being spurned the first time it seems that the female contestant in the game show felt she needed to do what was best for herself in preserving her life. Therefore, she took on the liberty of her natural right. You may want to consider the idea of the natural right in the woman’s decision to take the money in order better herself financially. We also see the competitiveness which Hobbes briefly touches on in his state of nature come to light when the female contestant goes for all the money by choosing to steal rather than split. This represents self-interest which is another aspect of Hobbes state of nature. it is amazing to think how ideas developed so long ago are ever present in our society today and continue to influence people everywhere on a daily basis.

  2. Stacy Radin permalink
    February 13, 2011 11:07 PM


    Although I think using Hobbes to explain the actions of the game show contestants is interesting and insightful, you left out some key explanations of why the contestants acted in the manner that they did. You are right—there is no covenant between the man and the woman. Because of this, they are living in, in Hobbes’ eyes, a state of nature. In the state of nature, Hobbes believes man is selfish, egotistical, vain, and constantly acquisitive of more. There is no justice in the state of nature. This is why the actions occurred as they did and the woman ended up with all the money. Rather than having the main point of this post that it is OK to steal and not feel bad on game shows, I believe the main objective should be to illustrate an entertaining manner of seeing what occurs in the state of nature. Had the contestants made a covenant, and both agreed to split the money, they would no longer be in the state of nature. Usually in the state of nature people are likely to cooperate and not cheat due to risk of ruining a reputation, but since these contestants are only on the show once, they don’t have to worry about reputation. This is why this show is considered a Prisoner’s Dilemma rather than an Assurance Game. Reputation for trustworthiness does not make a difference in this game.

  3. Brielle Edwards permalink
    February 14, 2011 1:31 PM


    I agree with the first two comments. This post was very interesting. It’s cool how you found a video clip of a game show that and comparing to Hobbes state of nature and the theory of social contract. The covenant was verbal with a consequence of money lose. This was also interesting because in today’s world people are money hunger so that situation makes it more interesting and exciting. I am not surprised that the woman did what she did because after all, it is money. She used her looks and personality to spin the man under the belief that he/she would split the money. But she was looking at her self-interest and looking out for herself. I agree with the first post, we also can see the competitiveness that Hobbes discusses on in his state of nature because the woman goes for all the money instead of splitting it. She is only looking out for herself, which I would not call being selfish but because the consequence is either winning the money or not winning the money and the amount of money is such a large amount it is very appealing so I can see why she went for it all.

    • Jacob Saslow permalink
      February 16, 2011 4:24 PM

      I agree. If put on the gameshow myself, I would really struggle to not take the money. Yes, it would speak badly about my morals, but the temptation would be overwhelming. Also, I hope my initial post did not make it seem as if I was suggesting that the woman stole the money simply by using her looks. I was trying to convey how it is impossible for us to block out all social factors and focus solely on what Hobbes would predict. Also, I respect the woman for taking advantage of the opportunity she was given to win money. Although, I empathize with the male contestant.

  4. Justin Kucera permalink
    February 14, 2011 4:59 PM

    This is a really good demonstration of the prisoner’s dilemma for those of us who didn’t quite understand it with the boxes. I think that I would have to split the money. Personally, I would feel way better about myself if we both got money and we were both happy. But as you said, in terms of Hobbes, i’m sure he would steal every time with no second thoughts.

  5. Jack Daniels permalink
    February 20, 2011 9:31 AM

    For a study based on this game show, see

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