The Economics of Meaning
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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