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The evolution of morality and the end of economic man

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  • Geoffrey Hodgson

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Abstract

1871 saw the publication of two major treatises in economics, with self-seeking economic man at their center. In the same year Darwin published The Descent of Man, which emphasized sympathy and cooperation as well as self-interest, and contained a powerful argument that morality has evolved in humans by natural selection. Essentially this stance is supported by modern research. This paper considers the nature of morality and how it has evolved. It reconciles Darwin’s notion that a developed morality requires language and deliberation (and is thus unique to humans), with his other view that moral feelings have a long-evolved and biologically-inherited basis. The social role of morality and its difference with altruism is illustrated by an agent-based simulation. The fact that humans combine both moral and selfish dispositions has major implications for the social sciences and obliges us to abandon the pre-eminent notion of selfish economic man. Economic policy must take account of our moral nature. Copyright Springer-Verlag Berlin Heidelberg 2014

Suggested Citation

  • 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.
  • Handle: RePEc:spr:joevec:v:24:y:2014:i:1:p:83-106
    DOI: 10.1007/s00191-013-0306-8
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    File URL: http://hdl.handle.net/10.1007/s00191-013-0306-8
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    References listed on IDEAS

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    1. Geoffrey M. Hodgson, 2007. "Meanings of methodological individualism," Journal of Economic Methodology, Taylor & Francis Journals, vol. 14(2), pages 211-226.
    2. Viktor J. Vanberg, 2008. "The Economics of Moral Preferences," American Journal of Economics and Sociology, Wiley Blackwell, vol. 67(4), pages 605-628, October.
    3. Jeffrey Carpenter & Peter Matthews & Okomboli Ong’ong’a, 2004. "Why Punish? Social reciprocity and the enforcement of prosocial norms," Journal of Evolutionary Economics, Springer, vol. 14(4), pages 407-429, October.
    4. Herbert Gintis, 2000. "Strong Reciprocity and Human Sociality," UMASS Amherst Economics Working Papers 2000-02, University of Massachusetts Amherst, Department of Economics.
    5. Henrich, Joseph, 2004. "Cultural group selection, coevolutionary processes and large-scale cooperation," Journal of Economic Behavior & Organization, Elsevier, vol. 53(1), pages 3-35, January.
    6. Jerry Evensky, 2005. "Adam Smith's Theory of Moral Sentiments: On Morals and Why They Matter to a Liberal Society of Free People and Free Markets," Journal of Economic Perspectives, American Economic Association, vol. 19(3), pages 109-130, Summer.
    7. Andreoni, James, 1995. "Cooperation in Public-Goods Experiments: Kindness or Confusion?," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 85(4), pages 891-904, September.
    8. Lopes, Helena & Santos, Ana C. & Teles, Nuno, 2009. "The motives for cooperation in work organizations," Journal of Institutional Economics, Cambridge University Press, vol. 5(03), pages 315-338, December.
    9. Jeffrey Carpenter & Peter Matthews, 2009. "What norms trigger punishment?," Experimental Economics, Springer;Economic Science Association, vol. 12(3), pages 272-288, September.
    10. Samuel Bowles & Astrid Hopfensitz, 2000. "The Co-evolution of Individual Behaviors and Social Institutions," Working Papers 00-12-073, Santa Fe Institute.
    11. 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.
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    Cited by:

    1. Takuro Uehara & Yoko Nagase & Wayne Wakeland, 2016. "Integrating Economics and System Dynamics Approaches for Modelling an Ecological–Economic System," Systems Research and Behavioral Science, Wiley Blackwell, vol. 33(4), pages 515-531, July.

    More about this item

    Keywords

    Morality; Darwin; Evolution; Cooperation; Altruism; B52; D01; D64;

    JEL classification:

    • B52 - Schools of Economic Thought and Methodology - - Current Heterodox Approaches - - - Historical; Institutional; Evolutionary
    • D01 - Microeconomics - - General - - - Microeconomic Behavior: Underlying Principles
    • D64 - Microeconomics - - Welfare Economics - - - Altruism; Philanthropy; Intergenerational Transfers

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