A Look Back: 2019 WU Lecture in Economics

04. Februar 2020

Economics and human motivation: Charles Darwin meets Adam Smith and Immanuel Kant | WU Matters. WU Talks. | Dec 18, 2019 | Keynote Speaker: Jörgen Weibull

This year's keynote speaker, Jörgen Weibull from the University of Stockholm, Sweden, gave a lecture entitled “Economics and human motivation: Charles Darwin meets Adam Smith and Immanuel Kant”. The lecture was opened by Harald Badinger (Vice-Rector for Financial Affairs, WU) and Ulrich Berger (Department of Economics).

The title of the lecture hints at an interesting and surprising connection between evolution, economics, and moral philosophy, that Jörgen Weibull discovered together with Ingela Alger a few years ago. The topic is a very relevant one: Mainstream economics has for many years been confronted with the accusation of relying on fundamentally wrong assumptions about human behavior, encapsulated in the rational and selfish homo economicus. Behavioral economics has responded with a variety of theoretical models that typically keep the rationality assumption but replace selfishness with some kind of social preferences. This approach still follows the usual assumption that preferences are exogenously given. Weibull and Alger went an important step further and asked the question where preferences come from. They turned to Darwinian evolution as an explanation and built a very general model of the evolution of preferences. Surprisingly it turned out that evolved human motivations present themselves as a mixture of selfishness, morality, and a little bit of envy, where the morality part resembles Kant’s categorical imperative. These competitive moralists can indeed be identified in laboratory experiments with human subjects, and in his talk Jörgen Weibull explored the implications these types of motivations have on economic behavior and economic policy.

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