Morality, evolutionary foundations, experimental support, and economic implications

25 May 2017
Versione stampabile

2 PM, Seminar Room, Department of Economics and Management, via Inama 5

Speaker: Jörgen W. Weibull, Stockholm School of Economics


Since the publication of Adam Smith’s Wealth of Nations it has been customary among economists to presume that economic agents are purely self-interested. 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, one may wonder about the evolutionary foundations of human motivation. What preferences and moral values, if any, have survival value under natural selection? In joint work with professor Ingela Alger, we have found that natural selection, in starkly simplified but mathematically well-structured environments, favors preferences that combine self-interest with a certain form of Kantian morality. Roughly speaking, the moral component evaluates one’s own actions in terms of what would happen, if, hypothetically, these actions were probabilistically adopted by others. Such moral preferences have important implications for economic behavior. They motivate individuals to contribute to public goods, to give fair offers when they could get away with cheap offers, and to contribute to social institutions and act in environmentally friendly ways even if their individual impact is negligible. Preliminary results on experimental evidence for such a moral motivation will be discussed.