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The Economics of Meaning

Author

Listed:
  • 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.

Suggested Citation

  • Niklas Karlsson & George Loewenstein & Jane McCafferty, 2004. "The Economics of Meaning," Nordic Journal of Political Economy, Nordic Journal of Political Economy, vol. 30, pages 61-75.
  • Handle: RePEc:noj:journl:v:30:y:2004:p:61-75
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    File URL: http://www.nopecjournal.org/NOPEC_2004_a06.pdf
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    References listed on IDEAS

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    1. George A. Akerlof & Rachel E. Kranton, 2000. "Economics and Identity," The Quarterly Journal of Economics, Oxford University Press, vol. 115(3), pages 715-753.
    2. Loomes, Graham & Sugden, Robert, 1982. "Regret Theory: An Alternative Theory of Rational Choice under Uncertainty," Economic Journal, Royal Economic Society, vol. 92(368), pages 805-824, December.
    3. Loewenstein, George, 1999. "Because It Is There: The Challenge of Mountaineering . . . for Utility Theory," Kyklos, Wiley Blackwell, vol. 52(3), pages 315-343.
    4. Loewenstein, George, 1987. "Anticipation and the Valuation of Delayed Consumption," Economic Journal, Royal Economic Society, vol. 97(387), pages 666-684, September.
    5. Andrew Caplin & John Leahy, 2001. "Psychological Expected Utility Theory and Anticipatory Feelings," The Quarterly Journal of Economics, Oxford University Press, vol. 116(1), pages 55-79.
    6. 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.
    7. 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.
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    Cited by:

    1. Sunstein, Cass R., 2013. "The value of a statistical life: some clarifications and puzzles," Journal of Benefit-Cost Analysis, Cambridge University Press, vol. 4(02), pages 237-261, August.
    2. Song, Younghwan, 2015. "A Cross-State Comparison of Measures of Subjective Well-Being," IZA Discussion Papers 9396, Institute for the Study of Labor (IZA).
    3. 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.
    4. Chater, Nick & Loewenstein, George, 2016. "The under-appreciated drive for sense-making," Journal of Economic Behavior & Organization, Elsevier, vol. 126(PB), pages 137-154.
    5. 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.
    6. 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.

    More about this item

    JEL classification:

    • D81 - Microeconomics - - Information, Knowledge, and Uncertainty - - - Criteria for Decision-Making under Risk and Uncertainty

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