Two Paradoxes of Common Knowledge: Coordinated Attack and Electronic Mail

Noûs 52 (4):921-945 (2018)
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The coordinated attack scenario and the electronic mail game are two paradoxes of common knowledge. In simple mathematical models of these scenarios, the agents represented by the models can coordinate only if they have common knowledge that they will. As a result, the models predict that the agents will not coordinate in situations where it would be rational to coordinate. I argue that we should resolve this conflict between the models and facts about what it would be rational to do by rejecting common knowledge assumptions implicit in the models. I focus on the assumption that the agents have common knowledge that they are rational, and provide models to show that denying this assumption suffices for a resolution of the paradoxes. I describe how my resolution of the paradoxes fits into a general story about the relationship between rationality in situations involving a single agent and rationality in situations involving many agents.

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Harvey Lederman
University of Texas at Austin


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