Jane Austen: Game Theorist?

I like this. In a book out this year, Michael Chwe, a polisci professor at UCLA, posits that Jane Austen was a proto-game theorist, roughly a century and a half before game theory. Game theory (apparently) is about choices and preferences, thinking strategically not only about your own moves but about how others will respond to your moves. Austen and her characters are constantly engaged in this kind of strategic thinking. Nor, says Chwe, is this accidental. He argues that exploring and relentlessly theorising strategic thinking is Austen's explicit intention in her six novels. This might seem far-fetched, but if you consider game theory as arising from rational choice theory, Austen's mind and model seem a neat fit. Her novels are all about rational versus irrational choices, conceiving rationality in the most liberal sense. As well as her actions, Austen's conversations are full of cause and effect, decision analysis, binary choices, rational responses. Her characters conceptualise the world in terms of relationships and causalities, and the characters with the least social agency, usually women, think in the most strategic ways to gain advantages. “I hate to hear you talk about all women as if they were fine ladies,” cries Mrs Croft in Persuasion, “instead of rational creatures.” The rational creatures who are both the heroines and anti-heroines of Austen's world make perfect subjects for Chwe's reading. This is insightful and entertaining stuff, but I like the bigger point that the humanities themselves, not only the soft and hard sciences, are amenable to new ideas about how humans work.