Adam Smith on Instincts, Affection, and Informal Learning: Proximate Mechanisms in Multilevel Selection
Why do people give away knowledge in tutoring other people's children or when mentoring junior employees? Neoclassical economists explain informal learning as rational behavior that arises out of enlightened self-interest. They can also justify it as acts that satisfy the agent's preferences for the utility of others. By contrast, this paper shows that Smith's moral sentiments model anticipates a biological approach that explains additional and deeper motives for such exchanges. Instincts and emotions serve consequentialist ends because the ultimate causes of behavior are grounded in adaptations useful for survival and procreation. But man is largely innocent of this knowledge. The proximate causes of behavior—that is, the adaptive mechanisms actually at work in human society—are psychologically obscure—not left to the conscious mind. Social and moral capital develop through instincts and affection, and mentoring and collaboration are examples of social exchanges that arise from them.
Volume (Year): 67 (2009)
Issue (Month): 1 ()
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