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The Economics of Meaning

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  • Niklas Karlsson
  • George Loewenstein
  • Jane McCafferty

Abstract

In this paper we draw attention to an important motive – the desire for meaning – that drive considerable human behavior and economic activity, but has been largely ignored by economists. We distinguish four interpretations of meaning that differ in the degree to which they are amenable to modeling using the standard economic tools of utility maximization. These four interpretations are, in decreasing order of their amenability to modeling in conventional terms: (1) meaning as a resolution of preferences; (2), meaning as an extension of oneself either socially or temporally; (3) meaning as an act of making sense of one’s life; and (4) meaning as an assertion of free will. Drawing upon psychology and literature we analyze implications of these four interpretations of meaning for economics.

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Article provided by Nordic Journal of Political Economy in its journal Nordic Journal of Political Economy.

Volume (Year): 30 (2004)
Issue (Month): ()
Pages: 61-75

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Handle: RePEc:noj:journl:v:30:y:2004:p:61-75

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  1. Loomes, Graham, 1988. "Further Evidence of the Impact of Regret and Disappointment in Choice under Uncertainty," Economica, London School of Economics and Political Science, vol. 55(217), pages 47-62, February.
  2. Loewenstein, George, 1987. "Anticipation and the Valuation of Delayed Consumption," Economic Journal, Royal Economic Society, vol. 97(387), pages 666-84, September.
  3. George A. Akerlof & Rachel E. Kranton, 2000. "Economics And Identity," The Quarterly Journal of Economics, MIT Press, vol. 115(3), pages 715-753, August.
  4. Loomes, Graham & Sugden, Robert, 1982. "Regret Theory: An Alternative Theory of Rational Choice under Uncertainty," Economic Journal, Royal Economic Society, vol. 92(368), pages 805-24, December.
  5. Dan Ariely & George Loewenstein & Drazen Prelec, 2003. ""Coherent Arbitrariness": Stable Demand Curves Without Stable Preferences," The Quarterly Journal of Economics, MIT Press, vol. 118(1), pages 73-105, February.
  6. Loewenstein, George, 1999. "Because It Is There: The Challenge of Mountaineering . . . for Utility Theory," Kyklos, Wiley Blackwell, vol. 52(3), pages 315-43.
  7. Messick, David M., 1999. "Alternative logics for decision making in social settings," Journal of Economic Behavior & Organization, Elsevier, vol. 39(1), pages 11-28, May.
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Cited by:
  1. Loewenstein, George & Ubel, Peter A., 2008. "Hedonic adaptation and the role of decision and experience utility in public policy," Journal of Public Economics, Elsevier, vol. 92(8-9), pages 1795-1810, August.
  2. Jay Kimiecik, 2011. "Exploring the Promise of Eudaimonic Well-Being Within the Practice of Health Promotion: The “How” is as Important as the “What”," Journal of Happiness Studies, Springer, vol. 12(5), pages 769-792, October.
  3. George Loewenstein, 2009. "That Which Makes Life Worthwhile," NBER Chapters, in: Measuring the Subjective Well-Being of Nations: National Accounts of Time Use and Well-Being, pages 87-106 National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.

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