Wednesday, January 26, 2011

The Dilemma


"A form of argument involving an adversary in the choice of two (or, loosely, more) alternatives, either of which is (or appears) equally unfavourable to him. (The alternatives are commonly spoken of as the ‘horns’ of the dilemma.) Hence in Logic, a hypothetical syllogism having a conjunctive or ‘conditional’ major premiss and a disjunctive minor (or, one premiss conjunctive and the other disjunctive)" (OED).

As part of the system of Aristotelian logic, dilemmas are still within the old metaphysics of literacy. It is our task to substitute something for the dilemma. If Game Theory is our contrast, perhaps we should look at the way game theory uses dilemmas as a primary mode of engagement. Two assumptions come to mind immediately: 

--Dilemmas are usually conceived in binaries--either/or. Even in 'volunteers' dilemmas when there are more than one person the choices that people have still appear limited and finite.
--The choices in a dilemmas may only "appear" unfavorable--they may not in reality 'be' unfavorable.

Dilemmas in History

Poundstone's commentary on Game Theory proper suggests that one of the problems with game theory is that it doesn't take into account how humans actually behave. Part of the way game theory portions off human behavior is that it structures things in terms of dilemmas. Poundstone claims that throughout human history the prisoner's dilemma (and the dilemma in general) is a primary mode of philosophical and literary engagement. He mentions Kant, Hobbes, Poe, Puccini, and Jesus (123-125).

Though not always, the dilemma is frequently conceived in terms of moral situations/examples, as Poundstone does in the first few pages of his book. Game Theory, however, conceives of dilemmas in terms of utility/value/choice/preference. Can we conceive of dilemmas in terms of other situations? Or should we ignore the dilemma altogether?

Poundstone argues the best solution to prisoner's dilemma is to avoid prisoner's dilemmas: "This is what we've been trying to do all along with laws, ethics, and all the other cooperation-promoting social machinery" (278). Thus, we have to find a way to conceive of the situation in which it would not be a dilemma. To a certain extent, it is only by framing situations in terms of dilemmas that they come about. 


For our own project, the task I think is to find an electrate way to promote cooperation strategies. In a recent email, Ulmer suggested to me that we might substitute "Prisoner's jokes" for a Prisoner's dilemma. How can we make a joke out of the "prisoner" situation described in Poundstone? Jokes maintain a sense of irony and distance, a sort of extra something--"wit" (Baudrillard will go into more detail about the importance of Wit) in the way Freud understood it. 

Can the joke/wit be applied to an accident?

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