WHO IS John Harsanyi

John C. Harsanyi (1920-2000) was an economist who, along with John Nash and Reinhard Selten, won the Nobel Prize in Economic Sciences 1994 for his research on game theory, a mathematical system for predicting the outcomes of competitions and conflicts. Harsanyi was also noted for the effect f his contributions to moral philosophy.


John Harsanyi is best known for his contributions to the study of game theory and its application to economics, specifically for his developing the highly innovative analysis of games of incomplete information, so-called Bayesian games. He also made important contributions to the use of game theory and economic reasoning in political and moral philosophy (specifically utilitarian ethics) as well as contributing to the study of equilibrium selection.

John Harsanyi Background

Born in 1920 in Budapest to a Jewish pharmacist, Harsanyi survived the Nazi occupation of Hungary; he and his future wife fled the country's increasingly Communist regime in 1950, making their way to Australia before coming to the United States. Having earned a M.A. in economics from the University of Sydney, he went on to earn a Ph.D. in economics from Stanford University and began studying mathematics and statistics, in preparation to work in the field of game theory; his interest in topic had been sparked in the early 1950s by John Nash's papers on cooperative, non-cooperative, and bargaining games, as well as on mutually optimal threat strategies in such games.

In 1964, after a two-year stint at Wayne State University, he became a professor at the Business School of the University of California, Berkeley. Although he had published several papers in the '50s, it was at Berkeley that his game theory researches began to blossom.

Selected Works of John Harsanyi

In a three-part paper published in 1967 and 1968, Harsani showed how to convert a game with incomplete information into one with complete yet imperfect information, so as to make it accessible to game-theoretic analysis. In 197,3 he showed that "almost all" mixed-strategy Nash equilibria can be reinterpreted as pure-strategy strict equilibria of a suitably chosen game with randomly fluctuating payoff functions.

He also published four books.Two of them, Two books, Essays on Ethics, Social Behavior, and Scientific Explanation (1976), and Papers in Game Theory (1982), were collections of journal articles. Rational Behavior and Bargaining Equilibrium in Games and Social Situations (1977), was an attempt to unify game theory by extending the use of bargaining models from cooperative games also to noncooperative games. A General Theory of Equilibrium Selection in Games (1988) was a joint work with Reinhard Selten. 

Additional Notes

Harsanyi remained at Berkeley for the rest of his career. He also held a honorary degree of Doctor of Science from Northwestern University. He was a member of the National Academy of Sciences and several economist societies.

John Harsanyi died on August 9, 2000, from a heart attack, in Berkeley.