Research Affiliate, Program in Science, Technology, and Society; E51-185c
Massachusetts Institute of Technology

S.M. Amadae studies contemporary normative theory, philosophy of public policy, human rights, philosophy of social science, history of political thought, science, technology and society, international relations and security, and American politics.

Dr. Amadae’s new book is Prisoners of Reason:  Game Theory and Neoliberal Political Economy (Cambridge:  Cambridge University Press, 2015).  This book argues that neoliberalism manifested in international relations and in political economy share the same roots in noncooperative game theory.  Game theory provides a theory of strategic rationality that denies commitment and deontic motivation, along with solidarity and shared intention.  Furthermore, it sustains the monetization of all value, and renders gratuitous altruism irrational.  Therefore, if strategic rationality is accepted as the sole platform for reasoned action, classical liberal economic and democratic practices must be rejected.  This means that the no-harm principle and side-constraints on action consistent with perfect duty are invalidated, and the imperfect duty of benevolence is rendered incoherent. 

Endorsements for Prisoners of Reason:

“Prisoners of Reason is a remarkable combination of the insights of game theory and political philosophy, especially as applied to the problem of nuclear deterrence.  Thoroughly researched and insightfully argued, it probes and criticizes the basic assumptions that are embedded in the modern analysis of international relations.  In doing so, it reveals neglected opportunities for how we can think about cooperation and accommodation in an increasingly dangerous era of world politics.”

Michael W. Doyle

Columbia University
Director, Columbia Global Policy Initiative


“S.M. Amadae has written a fascinating account that links the most important recent advances in social science with major events in political, military, and intellectual history in the twentieth century. This book adds to our understanding of economic and social theories through an in-depth analysis of people involved and institutions of that time.”

Jerry Green

John Leverett Professor and David A. Wells Professor of Political Economy, Chair of Ph.D. Program in Business Economics at the Harvard Business School, Harvard University


“In a deep re-thinking, S.M. Amadae shows that game-theoretic thinking, especially in the form of the Prisoner’s Dilemma, underpins not only American nuclear strategy, but neoliberalism in the domestic political economy and also multiple arguments from a different part of the political spectrum for the powerful role of institutions in international politics. Far from being value-neutral, this way of thinking has changed more than reflected much of American policy and life.”

Robert Jervis

Adlai E. Stevenson Professor of International Politics, Columbia University


“S.M. Amadae has a wonderfully arresting thesis concerning why winning the Cold War has proved so disappointing. Game theory’s strategic model of rational agency became the animating model of liberal society. We lost the Classical liberal ‘no-harm’ principle and gained the ‘no-holds barred’ premise of today’s neo-liberalism. This is a forensic analysis of how game theory has in this way led us astray.”

Shaun Hargreaves Heap

Professor of Political Economy, King’s College London


"Based on a far more nuanced understanding of the technicalities of rational choice theory than previous critiques, Prisoners of Reason can be much more incisive in exploring the field’s entanglements between the positive and the normative. One can disagree with Amadae about where to lay responsibility for modern ideologies while still finding important food for thought about the sometimes doleful uses of social science in modern society."

Randall Calvert

Thomas F. Eagleton University Professor of Public Affairs and Political Science, Washington University, St. Louis


“Prisoners of Reason is an impressive, indeed encyclopedic, overview and critique of the use of game theory to analyze social and political life – from theory to policy. Even those of us friendly to game-theoretic analysis will better appreciate its limits and abuses, and the narrow view of human motivation with which it has been too-often associated.”

Gerald Gaus

James E. Rogers Professor of Philosophy, University of Arizona


“A groundbreaking study of the appalling political consequences of a disastrously impoverished and distressingly dominant understanding of human rationality.”

Stephen Holmes

Walter E. Meyer Professor of Law, New York University School of Law

Rationalizing Capitalist Democracy:  The Cold War Origins of Rational Choice Liberalism (Chicago:  University of Chicago Press, 2003) explains the intellectual foundations and architecture of the schools of social choice, public choice, and positive political theory.  It investigates how the rise of rational choice theory is inseparable from the American Cold War effort to rebuild the foundations of democracy and the free market.

Rationalizing Capitalist Democracy won the American Political Science Association’s J. David Greenstone best book award for Politics and History in 2004.  It received the following book reviews:

Stanley L.  Engerman, Business History Review, Spring, 2004.


David Colander, Journal of Economic History, Spring, 2004, 64:281-282.


Peter Stone, Perspectives on Politics, June 2004, Vol. 2:2, 347-8.


James Midgley, Journal of Sociology and Social Welfare, Sept. 2004.


Qualitative Methods, Fall 2004, 25.


Michael Coulter, Journal of Markets and Morality, Fall 2005, Vol. 7:2, 579-582.


Robert D. Tollison, “A Snipe Hunt,” Public Choice, Sept. 2004, Vol. 120:3-4, 241-264.


Philippe Fontaine, ISIS, Sept. 2004, Vol. 95:3, 524.


Grégoire Mallard, Critique Internationale, Jan. 2005, Vol. 26: 1, 161-65.


Andrés Rius, History of Political Economy, Winter 2005, Vol. 37, 363-65.


David Samuels, “On ‘“American” Methods, “Comparative” Theories,’” American Political Science Association – Comparative Politics Newsletter, Winter, 2005, Vol. 16:1, 5-6.


Philip Mirowski, Review Essay, “Sleights of the Invisible Hand:  Economists Intervention in Political Theory,” Journal of the History of Economic Thought, March 2005, Vol. 27:1, 87-99.


Morris Altman, Journal of Economic Literature, March 2005, Vol. 43:1, 148-49.


Robert Adcock and Mark Bevir, Review Essay, Political Studies Review, 2005, Vol. 3, 1-16.


Frank Annunziata, Journal of American History, Dec. 2005, Vol. 92:3, 1045-46.


Richard Tuck, “The Rise of Rational Choice,” European Journal of Sociology, Dec. 2005, Vol 43:3, 587-593.


Jamie Cohen-Cole, Review Essay, “Cybernetics and the Machinery of

Rationality,” The British Journal for the History of Science,” July

2007, Vol. 40.