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The Economics of Moral Preferences


  • Viktor J. Vanberg


The long-standing critique of the "economic model of man" has gained new impetus, not least due to the broadening research in behavioral and experimental economics. Many of the critics have focused on the apparent difficulty of traditional rational choice theory to account for the role of moral or ethical concerns in human conduct, and a number of authors have suggested modifications in the standard model in response to such critique. This article takes issue with a quite commonly adopted "revisionist" strategy, namely, seeking to account for moral concerns by including them as additional preferences in an agent's utility function. It is argued that this strategy ignores the critical difference between "preferences over outcomes" and "preferences over actions", and that it fails to recognize that "moral preferences" belong in the second category. Preferences over actions, however, cannot be consistently accounted for within a theoretical framework that focuses on the rationality of single actions. They require a shift of perspective, from a theory of rational choice to a theory of rule-following behavior. Copyright © 2008 American Journal of Economics and Sociology, Inc..

Suggested Citation

  • Viktor J. Vanberg, 2008. "The Economics of Moral Preferences," American Journal of Economics and Sociology, Wiley Blackwell, vol. 67(4), pages 605-628, October.
  • Handle: RePEc:bla:ajecsc:v:67:y:2008:i:4:p:605-628

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    References listed on IDEAS

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    Cited by:

    1. Lauren Larrouy & Guilhem Lecouteux, 2017. "Mindreading and Endogenous Beliefs in Games," Working Papers halshs-01469136, HAL.
    2. Viktor J. Vanberg, 2009. "Evolving Preferences and Policy Advice in Democratic Society," Papers on Economics and Evolution 2009-19, Philipps University Marburg, Department of Geography.
    3. Adhia, Nimish, 2013. "The role of ideological change in India's economic liberalization," Journal of Behavioral and Experimental Economics (formerly The Journal of Socio-Economics), Elsevier, vol. 44(C), pages 103-111.
    4. Antonio Nicita & Matteo Rizzolli, 2014. "In Dubio Pro Reo. Behavioral Explanations of Pro-defendant Bias in Procedures," CESifo Economic Studies, CESifo, vol. 60(3), pages 554-580.
    5. Geoffrey Hodgson, 2014. "The evolution of morality and the end of economic man," Journal of Evolutionary Economics, Springer, vol. 24(1), pages 83-106, January.
    6. Enzo Dia, 2011. "Uncertainty, trust, and the regulation of the banking industry," International Review of Economics, Springer;Happiness Economics and Interpersonal Relations (HEIRS), vol. 58(2), pages 213-228, June.
    7. Boeddeling, Jann, 2011. "Corporate Social Responsibility: Fundamentalstellung für Kapitalismus und Wirtschaftssoziologie," Wittener Diskussionspapiere zu alten und neuen Fragen der Wirtschaftswissenschaft 17/2011, Witten/Herdecke University, Faculty of Management and Economics.

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