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Are Instincts Hardened Routines? A Radical Proposal


  • Elias L. Khalil


Routines and instincts are similar in terms of function and structure: 1) With respect to function, they economize on scarce decision-making resources, such as cognitive faculties, by making actions, within limits, inflexible vis-à-vis fluctuating environmental stimuli. As inflexible patterns, they are units that can be transferred via inheritance or social learning. 2) With respect to structure, routines are simply the detailing of the more abstract underpinning instincts. If so, the similarity of routines and instincts amount to homology rather than simple analogy. So, instincts and routines are constituents of the same phenomenon. This behooves to have a single theory that explains their formation. But the literature largely lacks such a theory. Pointedly, natural selection theory, which can explain instincts, cannot explain routines because they arise during ontogeny. This paper proposes a solution, a radical one: the rational choice approach. The radical proposal can, first, show that routines arise on the basis of rational choice. If routines are ultimately hardened instincts, the proposal can, second, show that instincts arise also on the basis of rational choice. While this solution invites Lamarckism, it offers a single and simple account of routines and instincts—as account that meets Ockham’s razor.

Suggested Citation

  • Elias L. Khalil, 2012. "Are Instincts Hardened Routines? A Radical Proposal," Monash Economics Working Papers 25-12, Monash University, Department of Economics.
  • Handle: RePEc:mos:moswps:2012-25

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    References listed on IDEAS

    1. Marciano, Alain & Khalil, Elias L., 2012. "Optimization, path dependence and the law: Can judges promote efficiency?," International Review of Law and Economics, Elsevier, vol. 32(1), pages 72-82.
    2. Khalil, Elias L., 1989. "Adam Smith and Albert Einstein: The Aesthetic Principle of Truth," Journal of the History of Economic Thought, Cambridge University Press, vol. 11(02), pages 222-237, September.
    3. Markus C. Becker & Nathalie Lazaric & Richard R. Nelson & Sidney G. Winter, 2005. "Applying organizational routines in understanding organizational change," Industrial and Corporate Change, Oxford University Press, vol. 14(5), pages 775-791, October.
    4. Birendra K. Rai & Chiu Ki So & Aaron Nicholas, 2012. "A Primer On Mathematical Modelling In Economics," Journal of Economic Surveys, Wiley Blackwell, vol. 26(4), pages 594-615, September.
    5. Liebowitz, S J & Margolis, Stephen E, 1990. "The Fable of the Keys," Journal of Law and Economics, University of Chicago Press, vol. 33(1), pages 1-25, April.
    6. Khalil, Elias L., 2010. "The Bayesian fallacy: Distinguishing internal motivations and religious beliefs from other beliefs," Journal of Economic Behavior & Organization, Elsevier, vol. 75(2), pages 268-280, August.
    7. Elias Khalil, 2009. "Natural selection and rational decision: two concepts of optimization," Journal of Evolutionary Economics, Springer, vol. 19(3), pages 417-435, June.
    8. David, Paul A, 1985. "Clio and the Economics of QWERTY," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 75(2), pages 332-337, May.
    9. Haig, David, 2011. "Sympathy with Adam Smith and reflexions on self," Journal of Economic Behavior & Organization, Elsevier, vol. 77(1), pages 4-13, January.
    10. David Laibson, 1997. "Golden Eggs and Hyperbolic Discounting," The Quarterly Journal of Economics, Oxford University Press, vol. 112(2), pages 443-478.
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