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Moral Preferences, Moral Constraints, and Self-Serving Biases

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  • Matthew Rabin.

Abstract

Economists have formally modeled moral dispositions by directly incorporating into utility analysis concern for the well-being of others. But sometimes moral dispositions are not preferences, as connoted by utility analysis, but rather are ingrained as (internal) constraints. I present a model fleshing out this distinction: If moral dispositions are internal constraints on a person's real goal of pursuing her self-interest, she will be keen to self-servingly gather, avoid, and interpret relevant evidence, for the purpose of relaxing this constraint and pursuing her self interest. This gives rise to self-serving biases in moral reasoning. I show that this alternative model has some implications different from a standard utility model. Specifically, because a person seeks to avoid information that interferes with her self interest, the scope for social influence in moral conduct is greater than it is in the conventional model. Outside parties can improve a person's moral conduct by a) forcing her to receive certain information, b) discouraging her from (selectively) thinking about other information, or c) encouraging her to think through moral principles before she knows where her self interest lies.

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Bibliographic Info

Paper provided by University of California at Berkeley in its series Economics Working Papers with number 95-241.

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Date of creation: 01 Aug 1995
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Handle: RePEc:ucb:calbwp:95-241

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Cited by:
  1. Matthew Ellman & Paul Pezanis-Christou, 2007. "Organisational structure, communication and group ethics," UFAE and IAE Working Papers 682.07, Unitat de Fonaments de l'Anàlisi Econòmica (UAB) and Institut d'Anàlisi Econòmica (CSIC).
  2. Brocas, Isabelle & Carrillo, Juan D, 2002. "Are We All Better Drivers than Average? Self-Perception and Biased Behaviour," CEPR Discussion Papers 3603, C.E.P.R. Discussion Papers.
  3. Benabou, R. & Tirole, J., 2001. "Willpower and Personal Rules," Papers 216, Princeton, Woodrow Wilson School - Public and International Affairs.
  4. Michael R. Ransom & Gordon B. Dahl, 1999. "Does Where You Stand Depend on Where You Sit? Tithing Donations and Self-Serving Beliefs," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 89(4), pages 703-727, September.
  5. Marko Tervio & Ernesto Dal Bo, 2008. "Self-esteem, Moral Capital, and Wrongdoing," 2008 Meeting Papers 245, Society for Economic Dynamics.
  6. Isabelle Brocas & Juan D Carrillo, 2007. "The Brain as a Hierarchical Organization," Levine's Bibliography 122247000000001587, UCLA Department of Economics.
  7. Francesco Passarelli & Guido Tabellini, 2013. "Emotions and Political Unrest," Working Papers 474, IGIER (Innocenzo Gasparini Institute for Economic Research), Bocconi University.
  8. Timo Tammi, 2011. "Contractual preferences and moral biases: social identity and procedural fairness in the exclusion game experiment," Constitutional Political Economy, Springer, vol. 22(4), pages 373-397, December.
  9. Rafael Di Tella & Ricardo Pérez-Truglia, 2010. "Conveniently Upset: Avoiding Altruism by Distorting Beliefs About Others," NBER Working Papers 16645, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  10. Peter H. Kriss & George Loewenstein & Xianghong Wang & Roberto A. Weber, 2011. "Behind the veil of ignorance: Self-serving bias in climate change negotiations," Judgment and Decision Making, Society for Judgment and Decision Making, vol. 6(7), pages 602-615, October.
  11. Bryan Caplan, 2002. "Systematically Biased Beliefs About Economics: Robust Evidence of Judgemental Anomalies from the Survey of Americans and Economists on the Economy," Economic Journal, Royal Economic Society, vol. 112(479), pages 433-458, April.
  12. Jon Elster, 1996. "Transmutation and Misrepresentation," Nordic Journal of Political Economy, Nordic Journal of Political Economy, vol. 23, pages 3-23.

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