Economics and human motivation: Charles Darwin meets Adam Smith and Immanuel Kant
Economic analyses are usually based on the assumption that decision-makers are purely self-interested. However, in many controlled laboratory experiments, this homo oeconomicus model has been shown to be not generally valid. Also introspection suggests that our motivation often is much richer, usually also including other-regarding or moral considerations. Then what kind of preferences should one expect Darwinian evolution to bring forth in spatially structured populations such as those of homo sapiens? In joint theoretical research with Ingela Alger (Institute for Advanced Study in Toulouse and Toulouse School of Economics) we argue that evolution leads to what we call homo moralis preferences, a combination of self-interest, in line with Adam Smith’s Wealth of Nations, and morality in line with Immanuel Kant’s categorical imperative. In subsequent work, also involving biologist Laurent Lehmann (Lausanne) and experimentalist Boris van Leeuwen (Tilburg), we show that a third component may enter, namely, a grain of envy. We call individuals with all three motivational components (self-interest, morality, and envy) competitive moralists. Such richer motivations, not before studied, have important implications for economic behavior and economic policy.
Jörgen Weibull, A.O. Wallenberg Professor of Economics, Stockholm School of Economics
Ulrich Berger, Institute for Analytical Economics, WU
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