The "prisoner's dilemma" solved

© 2006 Paul Cooijmans

In philosophy and psychology a lot of fuss has been made about the "prisoner's dilemma", a supposed logical and philosophical problem discovered by Melvin Dresher and Merrill Flood in 1950. It is usually phrased something like this:

Two criminals are caught and interrogated separately. They are both told as follows: If you both confess you will both get five years in prison. If one of you confesses, providing evidence against the other, and the other denies, the first is released and the latter gets ten years in prison. If you both deny, you both get one year in prison based on our current evidence which is insufficient for a higher sentence.

Books have been written about what they should logically do, focussing on the effects of confession and denial on the punishment, on probabilities, on cooperation versus egoism and so on. But of course, the only real and correct solution is that they must tell the truth. If they have done it they must confess, otherwise deny. The effects of confession and denial on the punishment must not play a role in this decision, as that would be unethical. That would be bargaining and bargaining is wrong in matters of good and bad.

The thousands of articles on this problem that discuss it in terms of cooperation, rationality, logic and probability, mercilessly betray one thing - and that is the true lesson of the "prisoner's dilemma": that current philosophy flees in complex logic, free of obligations, to escape having to deal with what really matters in life, to wit truth, ethics and human quality. The usual approach to the prisoner's dilemma is one without engagement to those matters. Therefore it is cowardly and without merit. The above solution shows the long lost road thinkers will have to go to really advance humankind. It is the real man's solution.