Backward Induction and Common Strong Belief of Rationality

Itai Arieli

In 1995, Aumann showed that in games of perfect information, common knowledge of rationality is consistent and entails the back- ward induction (BI) outcome. That work has been criticized because it uses "counterfactual" reasoning|what a player "would" do if he reached a node that he knows he will not reach, indeed that he him- self has excluded by one of his own previous moves. This paper derives an epistemological characterization of BI that is outwardly reminiscent of Aumann's, but avoids counterfactual reason- ing. Specifically, we say that a player strongly believes a proposition at a node of the game tree if he believes the proposition unless it is logically inconsistent with that node having been reached. We then show that common strong belief of rationality is consistent and entails the BI outcome, where - as with knowledge - the word "common" signifies strong belief, strong belief of strong belief, and so on ad infinitum. Our result is related to - though not easily derivable from - one obtained by Battigalli and Sinischalchi [7]. Their proof is, however, much deeper; it uses a full-blown semantic model of probabilities, and belief is defined as attribution of probability 1. However, we work with a syntactic model, defining belief directly by a sound and complete set of axioms, and the proof is relatively direct.

February, 2010
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