I am looking for a paper I am sure to have read a while ago, but cannot recall its title. The message was that we should not judge game theory (or economic theory in general?) by its ability as an "applied science", improving our understanding of the world. Instead, we should treat it like a beatiful garden or a piece of art, maintained by society for its sheer beauty. I would believe it was a classic game theorist (Rubinstein? Aumann?) but could not find the text. I am not refering to Friedman's "The Methodology of Positive Economics".

Hopefully the relatively sparse hints suffice... Thank you!


1 Answer 1


I believe you're looking for the following passage from Ariel Rubinstein's Economic Fables:

As for me, I was fortunate to be present at stages of Nash’s journey and the march of game theory from the margin of economics to its core. And what do I find in game theory? A beautiful mind. It is interesting because it touches upon the way we think about the world. It is beautiful because it offers lucid formulations for what appears to be confusing. It has the same interest and beauty that I find in philosophy, mathematics, logic and literature. If in a circuitous way that I am unaware of it can also be useful – then so much the better. But, in my view, usefulness is neither the criterion nor the essence.

  • 2
    $\begingroup$ I've always respected Rubinstein a great deal because he was the first game theorist I read who wrote he does not think game theory is useful in any practical way. Most other texts I read bent over backwards to claim that it was used in WW2, is being used presently by firms all the time, and that it gives one perspective. When investigated, it seems that the "game theory" behind these claims is much more the Prisoner's Dilemma sort than the Nash-theorem sort. Which is very interesting and entertaining, but not serious game theory as understood by its practitioners. $\endgroup$
    – Giskard
    May 3, 2022 at 20:08
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ @Giskard, same story here. I admire game theory as a field, but I have not seen a single real-world "application" that really deserves this label. When asked, I tell my students that game theory is successfully "applied" within economic models, but all this game-theory-for-managers stuff is mostly hot air. $\endgroup$
    – VARulle
    May 4, 2022 at 7:26
  • $\begingroup$ @VARulle Love your use of quotes! $\endgroup$
    – Giskard
    May 4, 2022 at 8:15
  • $\begingroup$ Many (!) thanks for the suggestion! Unfortunately, I am pretty sure this is not the text I remember reading - I am certain it was a paper (not a whole book). It is very much in the spirit of the Fables, though, as well as of Aumann's thoughts in What Is Game Theory Trying to Accomplish?. Maybe I am lucky and someone recalls what I am so very vaguely remembering... $\endgroup$
    – Bernd
    May 4, 2022 at 8:58

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service and acknowledge you have read our privacy policy.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.