We survey research on incurring commitments by voluntary hostage posting as a mechanism of cooperation. The Trust Game is employed as a paradigmatic example of cooperation problems. We sketch a very simple game-theoretic model that shows how voluntary hostage posting can bind the trustee and thus induce trustfulness of the trustor as well as trustworthiness of the trustee. We then indicate how the model can be improved by including uncertainty and incomplete information, transaction costs of hostage posting and compensating effects as well as signaling effects of hostages. Further extensions of the theoretical analysis are outlined as well as testable hypotheses and references to empirical research. Problems for future research are suggested. 1. Why Consider Commitments by Hostage Posting as a Mechanism of Cooperation? The study of cooperation by ‘rational egoists ’ goes back, at least, to the 17th and 18th century philosophers and social scientists Hobbes and Hume. In fact, Parsons (1937, 91) argued that the problem of social order constitutes “the most fundamental empirical difficulty of utilitarian thought”. Quite a bit of Hartmut Kliemt’s own research focuses on this problem, including early and original contributions such as his discussion of Taylor’s (1976) seminal analysis (Kliemt and Schauenberg 1982) and of course his two impressive monographs (Kliemt 1985; 1986) that provide a comprehensive account both through an overview and systematic reconstruction of the literature as well as through theoretical modeling of conditions for cooperation using game-theoretic tools. Arguably, at least in Germany, Kliemt and Voss (1982; 1985) have been the first in social philosophy and in sociology, who clearly recognized and applied the potential of game-theoretic tools for tackling Parsons ’ challenge. Kliemt’s early work was on cooperation through repeated encounters between the same actors (see also Axelrod 1984 who offered an approach that was * Support by the Netherlands Organization for Scientific Research (NWO) for the PIONIERprogra
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