Marcos Thiago Graciani
Master's – Axiomatic choice under uncertainty: a history of von Neumann and Morgenstern’s Theory of Games
Advisor: Prof. Dr. Pedro Garcia Duarte
Comission: Profs. Drs. Catherine Sophia Herfeld, Marcos Yamada Nakaguma and Roberta Muramatsu
Class: 217, FEA-5
This dissertation studies the immediate reception of von Neumann and Morgenstern’s Theory of Games and Economic Behavior. It focuses on how economists (and other scientists, such as mathematicians) reacted to von Neumann and Morgenstern’s axiomatization of expected utility theory. Such study employs book reviews the Theory of Games received, articles authored by mathematically-proficient readers who followed von Neumann and Morgenstern’s lead of axiomatizing choice under uncertainty, and articles that cited the later. The main conclusions are threefold. First, to understand the history of the Theory of Games’ reception it is unavoidable to consider how secondary sources acted as disseminators of its premises, results, and method. Second, many skilled authors reflected on von Neumann and Morgenstern’s book. Most economists who used that literature in an axiomatic framework cited such contributions to borrow and adapt assumptions. Those who applied results directly generally used less-sophisticated mathematical tools and were not proof-driven. Third, while the independence axiom is a necessary condition for expected utility theory, economists struggled to understand how von Neumann and Morgenstern used it. It was not clear where the Theory of Games hid that assumption. After economists discovered the independence axiom, they did not find an immediate use for it.
*Abstract provided by the author