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Title: Nature's secret art : the evolution of conventions, cooperation and customary international law
Author: Gale, J. L. H.
Awarding Body: University of Cambridge
Current Institution: University of Cambridge
Date of Award: 2011
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This central aim of this thesis is to provide sound foundations for understanding two persistent and closely related questions within international relations and international legal theory. First, can genuine cooperation arise in a world of self-interested states that recognise no political superior? And second, can we defend the reality of international law as a force for shaping state behaviour in a decentralised world? Most pertinently, building on international relations scholarship regarding the problem of cooperation, a profound redirection in our thinking about international law has gained momentum in recent years. This approach, based on game theory, emphasises the centrally of state interest and rationality as the basis concepts of international affairs; so far as state behaviour can be understood as the product of the rational pursuit of self-interest, it is argued that law and genuine cooperation have no explanatory parts to play. Game-theoretic scepticism regarding the reality of law and cooperation requires a robust game-theoretic defence, and this is what this thesis attempts to provide. It is first argued that customary international law is the logical basis of international law. This is not a defect of international law, for any system of law is ultimately based on custom. Conventions, defined as stable regularities of cooperative behaviour ultimately founded on self-interest, are taken to provide the theoretic foundations of social customs. The central theoretic difficulty is then to explain how self-regarding agents, unrestrained by a prior social order, may form conventions that give rise to social customs. Kant hypothesises that ‘Nature’ may play her hand and extricate us from the antagonism that characterises our relations before social norms have evolved. Identifying Nature with the forces of evolutionary selection, the tools of evolutionary game theory are used to demonstrate how self-interested egoists may establish stable norms of international behaviour. International interaction is modelled by the repeated Prisoner’s Dilemma, and how a state behaves in any interaction is determined by its strategy. So long as states occasionally imitate the strategies of other better-performing states, and so long as states occasionally switch spontaneously to other strategies, the evolutionary game theory may be used to understand how conventions arise and persist: importantly, rationality need not be presumed. Three mechanisms for the genesis of social conventions are presented. These are reciprocity, punishment based on multi-level selection, and reputation. Each mechanism provides a basis for an idealised understanding of the genesis and persistence of social conventions, and consequently international cooperation and customary law. It is hoped that this preliminary attempt to introduce evolutionary thinking to international affairs will broaden our understanding of, and help to direct future research into, the perennial controversies over the potential for cooperation and effectiveness of legal norms in international affairs.
Supervisor: Not available Sponsor: Not available
Qualification Name: Thesis (Ph.D.) Qualification Level: Doctoral
EThOS ID:  DOI: Not available