This paper outlines an analysis of the unintended consequences of social action. The paradigm employed for
this analysis is game theory, which is used critically as a methodological device. A division is made between
consequences that, although unintended, are easily foreseen by the actors and those that are not. The first type (best
exemplified by the well known “Prisoners’ Dilemma”) arises in systems of action referred to as “simple”, since actors,
even if they do not personally know each other, are easily able to anticipate each other’s behavior. I shall call these consequences “weak unintended consequences”. The second type (best exemplified by two-level games in international
relations) arises in systems of action referred to as “complex”, since actors cannot predict the ultimate consequences of a
large chain of interconnected actions. I shall call this second type of consequences “strong unintended consequences”.
This classification, however, is not claimed to be exhaustive.
Game theoryrationalitysystem of actiontwo-level game, unintended consequences