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Morality: evolutionary foundations and policy implications

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  • Alger, Ingela
  • Weibull, Jörgen W.

Abstract

Since the publication of Adam Smithís Wealth of Nations, it has been customary among economists to presume that economic agents are purely selfinterested. However, research in experimental and behavioral economics has shown that human motivation is more complex and that observed behavior is often better explained by additional motivational factors such as a concern for fairness, social welfare etc. As a complement to that body of work we have carried out theoretical investigations into the evolutionary foundations of human motivation (Alger and Weibull 2013, 2016). We found that natural selection, in starkly simpliÖed but mathematically well-structured environments, favors preferences that combine self-interest with morality. Roughly speaking, the moral component evaluates oneís own action in terms of what would happen, if, hypothetically, this action were adopted by others. Such moral preferences have important implications for economic behavior. They motivate individuals to contribute to public goods, to give fair o§ers when they could get away with cheap o§ers, and to contribute to social institutions and act in environmentally friendly ways even if their individual impact is negligible.

Suggested Citation

  • Alger, Ingela & Weibull, Jörgen W., 2016. "Morality: evolutionary foundations and policy implications," TSE Working Papers 16-702, Toulouse School of Economics (TSE).
  • Handle: RePEc:tse:wpaper:31011
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    Cited by:

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    3. José Ignacio Rivero Wildemauwe, 2023. "Trade among moral agents with information asymmetries," THEMA Working Papers 2023-10, THEMA (THéorie Economique, Modélisation et Applications), Université de Cergy-Pontoise.

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