Press releases


Sep 7 2016

It was in Frankfurt that the economist outlined the main features of work later awarded the Nobel Prize

Goethe University Frankfurt mourns the death of Reinhard Selten

Goethe University Frankfurt is mourning the death of Reinhard Selten, its former student, doctoral researcher and post-doctoral fellow, who in 1994 was the first and so far only German to receive the Nobel Memorial Prize in Economic Sciences for his achievements in the field of game theory. As has just become known, Selten died on the 23rd of August aged 85.

Professor Birgitta Wolff, President of Goethe University Frankfurt, said: “Reinhard Selten was a pioneer in the field of economics. The approaches he pursued were at that time completely new in experimental economics research. In the 1950s and 1960s, when he was a student, doctoral researcher and post-doctoral fellow at Goethe University Frankfurt, he found mentors and supporters who shared his ideas and encouraged him to continue along his chosen path. His passing saddens us deeply. We are very pleased that his work, which set such a precedent, was so greatly successful.”

Raimond Maurer, Dean of the Faculty of Economics and Business Administration: “German economic sciences have lost a researcher who was highly respected at international level. As a role model, he will remain part of our lives in many ways with his inquisitiveness, tenacity, and scholarly ambition.”

Reinhard Selten began at Goethe University Frankfurt in 1951 as a student of Mathematics.  He also attended lectures in Political Economy and Psychology. Already at that time, he became interested in the economic significance of games. According to his supervisor Ewald Burger, Selten’s diploma thesis “An Evaluation of Strategic Games” (1957) was already at the level of a doctoral dissertation. Whilst during that period his work was still limited to games with two players, in his doctoral thesis "An Evaluation of n-Person Games” (1961) he expanded the horizon further. This work, for which he was awarded the Doctor of Mathematics, originated during his time as a research associate at the chair of Heinz Sauermann, economist and one of the forerunners of the mathematization of economic sciences in Germany.

Alongside the further development of his game theory, Selten built up together with Sauermann the second major pillar of his scientific work, that is, experimental economics research, the objective of which is to investigate real human behaviour in laboratory situations. Both interests went hand in hand. The refinement of the Nash equilibrium with Selten’s concept of subgame perfection is still today a fundamental component of experimental economics research. In 1965, Selten laid the foundation stone for his work in this area, for which he would later be awarded the Nobel Prize, with the publication entitled “An Oligopoly Model with Demand Inertia”.

In 1968, Selten qualified as professor at the Faculty of Economics and Business Administration with a treatise on “Price Policy in the Multi-product Firm in Static Theory” – according to its reviewers one of the most important German-language contributions to economic theory in the post-war period. In 1969, after 17 years at Goethe University Frankfurt, Selten accepted a professorship at the Free University of Berlin. Bielefeld und Bonn were to become further stations in his academic career.

With the awarding of the Nobel Memorial Prize in Economic Sciences in 1994 to the three leading representatives of game theory, John Harsanyi, John F. Nash and Reinhard Selten, the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences acknowledged the investigation from a mathematics and economics perspective of the strategic behaviour of individuals in game situations, which for a long time tended to be regarded as a peripheral aspect of economics, and made it - and its representatives - famous at international level, also beyond the borders of the discipline itself.