Anatol Rapoport (*1911)

Anatol Rapoport is a pioneer and lead-figure of the systems sciences, studies in conflict & cooperation, and peace research. He is professor emeritus of Psychology and Mathematics at the University of Toronto, Canada.

Author of approximately 500 publications, Rapoport has spearheaded many scientific innovations, including the application of mathematical methods, first to Biology and later to the Social Sciences. Moreover, he is one of the rare thinkers who have contributed significantly to "marrying" philosophy and science. The originality and rigor of his thinking make his theoretical oeuvre extraordinarily resourceful, as well as unique in its ethical substance and esthetical appeal. Rapoport operates from a multidimensional background of experience and studies (see the following C.V.), embodying a deep humanistic commitment (cf. Rapoport 1994), and a profoundly systemic thinking.

Born in Lozovaya, Russia, Anatol Rapoport came to the U.S.A. in 1922, where he visited the Public Schools. Later he studied music in Chicago, then in Vienna (1929-1934), where he concluded his studies of composition, piano and conducting, at the State Academy of Music and Performing Arts (Staatsakademie für Musik und darstellende Kunst).

During his studies he was correspondent of the american journal "Musical Courrier", thereafter he performed as a concert pianist and with lectures on the semantics of music in Europe and the Americas.

In 1941 Rapoport received a Ph.D. degree in mathematics at the University of Chicago. During World War II he served the U.S. Air Force in Alaska and India. Later he became a member of the Comittee on Mathematical Biology at the University of Chicago (1947-1954) and of the Center for Advanced Studies in the Behavioral Sciences (Stanford, California), during the initial years of its existence. In this phase, he concentrated on mathematical biophysics, founded by his teacher Nicolas Rashevsky. In his first publication, Rapoport developed a mathematical method to model parasitism and symbiosis. Therein he dealt with an analogous phenomenon of what in the context of human systems would occupy him for most of his further professional life: Conflict and cooperation.

Early on, his interest was very much a meta-theoretical, epistemological one. This led to his books Science an the Goals of Man (1950) and Operational Philosophy (1953), in which the question is addressed, if human or social values can have a commmon basis, independently of modes of thoughts or feelings originating from different cultures. A lifelong inquiry into this question (see also: The Origins of Violence, 1989) has led Rapoport to postulate a universally shared view of what is "good" and "true", thereby refuting arguments of cultural relativism.

In search for invariants Rapoport has cultivated the dialogue across disciplines extensively. In 1954, together with the biologists Ludwig von Bertalanffy and Ralph Gerard, as well as the economist Kenneth Boulding, he founded the Society for General Systems Research, later renamed International Society for the Systems Sciences. Essentially this society has aimed at overcoming the growing isolation of specialized disciplines. The discourse following this transdisciplinary effort successively led to remarkable achievements by asscociates and colleagues, usually based on connecting illuminating methaphors with rigorous scientific analysis (e.g.: James Grier Miller, Living Systems; Karl Deutsch, The Nerves of Government).

From 1955 to 1970 Rapoport was Professor of Mathematical Biology and Senior Research Mathematician at the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor. That phase bred seminal contributions to game theory, condensed in six books, including Fights, Games, and Debates (1960), probably his most widely read opus.

Based on his first publications, from which two principles had been derived a) that cooperations of individuals can be stable or unstable, and b) that cooperation can breed a "dividend" Rapoport realized extensive theoretical and empirical studies (in part with A.M. Chammah), with special emphasis on non-zero-sum-games. One of the theoretical "harvests" is a general strategy of interaction for iterated prisoner's dilemma games, denominated Tit-for-Tat. In essence, this is a strategy based on the combined principles of cooperativeness ("goodwill"), retaliation and forgiveness. Although classified as "semi-weak", it won two tournaments against multiple other strategies, outperforming all the other aggressive ("strong") as well as "weak" counterparts. The most important theoretical result of those tournaments was that although the Tit-for-Tat-Strategy cannot possibly win the iterated Prisoners' Dilemma in an encounter with another single strategy, it is more likely to win in a "war of all against all" of different strategies (for details, see Axelrod. The Evolution of Cooperation, 1984, Rapoport, Paradoxe der Entscheidungstheorie, 1995). This result corroborates the biblical prophecy that "the meek... shall inherit the earth" (Matthew 5.5; cf.: Rapoport, Gewissheiten und Zweifel, 1994: 255).

Since 1970, the University of Toronto has been Rapoport's academic base, where he has operated as a Professor of Psychology and Mathematics, and as a Professor for Peace and Conflict Studies.

On one hand much of his earlier work has been deepened, e.g. work in

· the application of mathematical methods to the humanities (Mathematische Methoden in den Sozialwissenschaften, 1983; Mathematical Methods in the Social and Behavioral Sciences, 1984;)

· general semantics, treated from an evolutionist perspective (Semantics, 1975)

· game theory (The 2 x 2 Game, with M. Geyer and D. Gordon,1976)

· systems theory (General System Theory, 1984)

· decision theory (Decision Theory and Decision Behavior, 1989)

On the other hand, his game theoretical studies in a systemic framework almost "naturally" led Rapoport's research endeavor into issues related to ecology (Conflict in Man-made Environment, 1974), and, most prominently, into peace research (The Origins of Violence, 1989; Peace, an Idea Whose Time has Come, 1993). He has been publishing and teaching widely on theories and techniques of conflict resolution, in particular on the international and ideological levels, and built up the initiative "Science for Peace". For many years he has worked on what he considers to be the central global problem: Aggression in general and the confrontation of superpowers in particular. Rapoport has developed most varied activities as a speaker and consultant to scientific institutions and conferences all over the world. He has been a guest professor to Universities in Austria, Denmark, Germany, Japan and Switzerland, and the director of the Institute of Advanced Studies in Vienna (1980-1984).

Anatol Rapoport is the editor of General Systems, associate editor, Journal of Conflict Resolution, Behavioral Science, ETC.: A Review of General Semantics, and member of the editorial boards of about 10 journals. He is active in numerous scientific associations and initiatives.1

Finally, he has been awarded high honors.2

Anatol Rapoport's titanic work is an exceedingly rich testimony of his sustained and infatiguable commitment to the highest of ethical standards. This has implied his advocating the underpriviledged, fighting all kinds of manipulation of persons, violence, exploitation and corruption, - never in the naive modes of reductionism, but always on systemic-holistic grounds and in terms of cogent theoretical argumentation.

In his theoretical models he has creatively explored new dimensions of rationality and therewith opened hitherto unknown paths towards higher quality of life, peace and the survival of humanity, e.g. by

· reframing "absolute" and "relative" as complementary, not antagonistic concepts;

· cogent differentiation between the logics of individual and collective rationality;

· developing a theoretical framework for unifying philosophy/ethics and science;

· the elaboration of innovative systemic strategies for conflict and cooperation.

Rapoport's theory building is achieved by an intriguing combination of unorthodox, yet ri-gorous (although never rigid) conceptual thinking and thorough empirical testing throughout. Besides their substantiality and innovativeness, one of the extraordinary qualities conveyed by Anatol Rapoport's publications is in that they are free of jargon; however namely in his later works - the sensitive reader will "hear" a scientist, a philosopher, and an artist speaking with one and the same voice (e.g. Conversations with Three Russians, forthcoming).

It is encouraging for his pupils and fellow scientists to read at the end of one of this recent papers, which is somehow a synthesis of more than half a century's research effort:

"The programme of research and action proposed by the systemic approach have a chance to be implemented if science is guided by goals of enlightment instead by appetites of accumulation and power acquistion, as it is, for the most part today. This possible (but by no means guaranteed) byproduct of the information revolution could become an emergency exit from our past predicatment." (The Systemic Approach to Environmental Sociology, 1996).

Markus Schwaninger

University of St. Gallen, Switzerland

September 1998

Publications by Anatol Rapoport:


Science and the Goals of Man, 1950

Operational Philosophy, 1953 (also appeared in German)

Fights, Games, and Debates, 1960 (also appeared several other languages)

Strategy and Conscience, 1964

Prisoner's Dilemma (with A.M. Chammah), 1965

Two-Person Game Theory, 1966

N-Person Game Theory, 1970

The Big Two, 1971

Conflict in Man-made Environment, 1974

Semantics, 1975 (also appeared in German)

The 2 x 2 Game (with M. Geyer and d. Gordon), 1976

Mathematische Methoden in den Sozialwissenschaften, 1983

Mathematical Methods in the Social and Behavioral Sciences, 1984

General System Theory, 1986

The Origins of Violence, 1989

Decision Theory and Decision Behavior, 1989 (second revised edition 1998)

Canada and the World (with Anthony Rapoport), 1992

Peace, an Idea Whose Time Has Come, 1993 (also appeared in German and Russian)

Gewissheiten und Zweifel, 1994 (also forthcoming in Russian)

Conversations with Three Russians (forthcoming)

Books by Anatol Rapoport have been translated into Chinese, Dutch, French, German, Italian, Japanese, Portuguese, Russian, and Spanish.

Edited Volumes and Translations:

Clausewitz, C. von, On War, 1968

Game Theory as a Theory of Conflict Resolution, 1974

The Structure of Awareness, translation of Kofliktuyushchie Struktury by V.A. Lefebvre, 1977

Non-antagonistic Games, translation of Igry s Nieprotivopolozhnymi Interesami by Yu, B. Germeier, 1986

Journal articles: about 400

Entries in encyclopedias: about 10

Chapters contributed to books: about 40

The following chapters are quoted in this text:

Paradoxe der Entscheidungstheorie, in: Renate Martinsen, ed.: Das Auge der Wissenschaft. Zur Emergenz von Realität, Baden-Baden: Nomos, 1995

The Systemic Approach to Environmental Sociology, published in German as: Der systemi-sche Ansatz der Umweltsoziologie, in: Andreas Diekmann & Carlo C. Jaeger, eds.: Umweltsoziologie, Opladen: Westdeutscher Verlag, 1996 (Kölner Zeitschrift für Soziologie und Sozialpsychologie, Sonderheft 36/1996)


American Academy of Arts and Sciences; Council Study Committee on Ethics and Responsibilities of Scientists (chairman 1966-1968), American Association for the Advancement of Science, American Mathematical Society, Mathematical Association of America, the Biometric Society, Society for General Systems Research (president 1966), International Society for General Semantics (president 1953-1955), Canadian Peace Research and Education Association (president 1972-1975), Science for Peace (president 1984-1986).


Lenz International Peace Research Prize, Harold D. Lasswell Award for Distinguished Scientific Contributions to Political Psychology, and honorary doctorates, - of Human Letters (University of Western Michigan), of Laws (University of Toronto), of Science (Royal Military College), and of Sociology (University of Bern).