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Moral Preferences, Moral Constraints, and Self-Serving Biases

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  • Matthew Rabin.

Abstract

Economists have formally modeled moral dispositions by directly incorporating into utility analysis concern for the well-being of others. But sometimes moral dispositions are not preferences, as connoted by utility analysis, but rather are ingrained as (internal) constraints. I present a model fleshing out this distinction: If moral dispositions are internal constraints on a person's real goal of pursuing her self-interest, she will be keen to self-servingly gather, avoid, and interpret relevant evidence, for the purpose of relaxing this constraint and pursuing her self interest. This gives rise to self-serving biases in moral reasoning. I show that this alternative model has some implications different from a standard utility model. Specifically, because a person seeks to avoid information that interferes with her self interest, the scope for social influence in moral conduct is greater than it is in the conventional model. Outside parties can improve a person's moral conduct by a) forcing her to receive certain information, b) discouraging her from (selectively) thinking about other information, or c) encouraging her to think through moral principles before she knows where her self interest lies.

Suggested Citation

  • Matthew Rabin., 1995. "Moral Preferences, Moral Constraints, and Self-Serving Biases," Economics Working Papers 95-241, University of California at Berkeley.
  • Handle: RePEc:ucb:calbwp:95-241
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    Cited by:

    1. Isabelle Brocas & Juan D. Carrillo, 2008. "The Brain as a Hierarchical Organization," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 98(4), pages 1312-1346, September.
    2. Strobel, Christina & Kirchkamp, Oliver, 2017. "Sharing responsibility with a machine," Annual Conference 2017 (Vienna): Alternative Structures for Money and Banking 168106, Verein für Socialpolitik / German Economic Association.
    3. Roland Benabou and Jean Tirole, 2004. "Willpower and Personal Rules," Journal of Political Economy, University of Chicago Press, vol. 112(4), pages 848-886, August.
    4. Michael R. Ransom & Gordon B. Dahl, 1999. "Does Where You Stand Depend on Where You Sit? Tithing Donations and Self-Serving Beliefs," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 89(4), pages 703-727, September.
    5. Jon Elster, 1996. "Transmutation and Misrepresentation," Nordic Journal of Political Economy, Nordic Journal of Political Economy, vol. 23, pages 3-23.
    6. Matthew Ellman & Paul Pezanis-Christou, 2010. "Organizational Structure, Communication, and Group Ethics," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 100(5), pages 2478-2491, December.
    7. Timo Tammi, 2011. "Contractual preferences and moral biases: social identity and procedural fairness in the exclusion game experiment," Constitutional Political Economy, Springer, vol. 22(4), pages 373-397, December.
    8. Andreas P. Kyriacou, 2011. "Rational Irrationality and Group Size: The Effect of Biased Beliefs on Individual Contributions Towards Collective Goods," American Journal of Economics and Sociology, Wiley Blackwell, vol. 70(1), pages 109-130, January.
    9. Ernesto Dal Bó & Marko Terviö, 2013. "Self-Esteem, Moral Capital, And Wrongdoing," Journal of the European Economic Association, European Economic Association, vol. 11(3), pages 599-663, June.
    10. Brocas, Isabelle & Carrillo, Juan D, 2002. "Are We All Better Drivers than Average? Self-Perception and Biased Behaviour," CEPR Discussion Papers 3603, C.E.P.R. Discussion Papers.
    11. Uri Gneezy & Alex Imas & Kristóf Madarász, 2012. "Conscience Accounting: Emotional Dynamics and Social Behavior," STICERD - Theoretical Economics Paper Series 563, Suntory and Toyota International Centres for Economics and Related Disciplines, LSE.
    12. Rafael Di Tella & Ricardo Pérez-Truglia, 2010. "Conveniently Upset: Avoiding Altruism by Distorting Beliefs About Others," NBER Working Papers 16645, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
    13. Bryan Caplan, 2002. "Systematically Biased Beliefs About Economics: Robust Evidence of Judgemental Anomalies from the Survey of Americans and Economists on the Economy," Economic Journal, Royal Economic Society, vol. 112(479), pages 433-458, April.
    14. Avtonomov, Y. & Elizarova, E., 2016. "Trust, Expectations and Optimism Bias: an Experimental Study," Journal of the New Economic Association, New Economic Association, vol. 29(1), pages 27-53.
    15. repec:ucp:jpolec:doi:10.1086/691700 is not listed on IDEAS
    16. Francesco Passarelli & Guido Tabellini, 2017. "Emotions and Political Unrest," Journal of Political Economy, University of Chicago Press, vol. 125(3), pages 903-946.
    17. Tom Cunningham & Jonathan de Quidt, 2016. "Implicit Preferences Inferred from Choice," CESifo Working Paper Series 5704, CESifo Group Munich.
    18. Homayoon Moradi & Alexander Nesterov, 2018. "Moral Wiggle Room Reverted: Information Avoidance is Myopic," HSE Working papers WP BRP 189/EC/2018, National Research University Higher School of Economics.
    19. Gustavo Adolfo Caballero Orozco, 2016. "Luck and Effort: Learning about Income from Friends and Neighbors," 2016 Papers pca706, Job Market Papers.
    20. Peter H. Kriss & George Loewenstein & Xianghong Wang & Roberto A. Weber, 2011. "Behind the veil of ignorance: Self-serving bias in climate change negotiations," Judgment and Decision Making, Society for Judgment and Decision Making, vol. 6(7), pages 602-615, October.
    21. Hennlock, Magnus & Löfgren, Åsa & Sterner, Thomas & Martinsson, Peter, 2018. "Emissions Trading Subject to Kantian Preferences," Working Papers in Economics 718, University of Gothenburg, Department of Economics.
    22. Uri Gneezy & Alex Imas & Kristóf Madarász, 2014. "Conscience Accounting: Emotion Dynamics and Social Behavior," Management Science, INFORMS, vol. 60(11), pages 2645-2658, November.
    23. repec:gam:jgames:v:8:y:2017:i:2:p:22-:d:99106 is not listed on IDEAS

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