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Moral Rules and the Moral Sentiments: Toward a Theory of an Optimal Moral System

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  • Louis Kaplow
  • Steven Shavell

Abstract

We examine how moral sanctions and rewards, notably the moral sentiments involving feelings of guilt and virtue, would be employed to govern individuals' behavior if the objective were to maximize social welfare. In our model, we analyze how the optimal use of guilt and virtue is influenced by the nature of the behavior under consideration, the costs of inculcating moral rules, constraints on the capacity to experience guilt and virtue, the fact that guilt and virtue often must be applied to groups of acts rather than be tailored to every conceivable type of act, and the direct effect of feelings of guilt and virtue on individuals' utility. We also consider a number of ways that the model could be extended, discuss the extent to which our analysis is consistent with the observed use of guilt and virtue, and relate our conclusions to longstanding philosophical debates about morality.

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Bibliographic Info

Paper provided by National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc in its series NBER Working Papers with number 8688.

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Date of creation: Dec 2001
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Publication status: published as Louis Kaplow & Steven Shavell, 2007. "Moral Rules, the Moral Sentiments, and Behavior: Toward a Theory of an Optimal Moral System," Journal of Political Economy, University of Chicago Press, vol. 115, pages 494-514.
Handle: RePEc:nbr:nberwo:8688

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  10. Rabin, Matthew, 1993. "Incorporating Fairness into Game Theory and Economics," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, American Economic Association, vol. 83(5), pages 1281-1302, December.
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Cited by:
  1. Benito Arruñada, 2003. "Specialization and rent-seeking in moral enforcement: The case of confession," Economics Working Papers, Department of Economics and Business, Universitat Pompeu Fabra 653, Department of Economics and Business, Universitat Pompeu Fabra, revised Jul 2009.
  2. Benito Arruñada, 2010. "Protestants and Catholics: Similar Work Ethic, Different Social Ethic," Economic Journal, Royal Economic Society, Royal Economic Society, vol. 120(547), pages 890-918, 09.
  3. Emrah Arbak, 2005. "Social status and crime," Post-Print halshs-00180036, HAL.
  4. Hongbin Li & Mark Rosenzweig & Junsen Zhang, 2008. "Altruism, Favoritism, and Guilt in the Allocuation of Family Resources: Sophie's Choice in Mao's Mass Send Down Movement," Working Papers, Economic Growth Center, Yale University 965, Economic Growth Center, Yale University.
  5. Juan Perote Peña, 2003. "Ethical Implementation and the Creation of Moral Values," Economic Working Papers at Centro de Estudios Andaluces E2003/25, Centro de Estudios Andaluces.
  6. Benito Arrunada, . "Catholic Confessions of Sin as Third Party Moral Enforcement," Gruter Institute Working Papers on Law, Economics, and Evolutionary Biology, Berkeley Electronic Press 3-1-1013, Berkeley Electronic Press.

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