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Wednesday, September 13, 2017

Economics: Society Cannot Function Without Moral Bonds

Geoffrey Hodgson
Originally posted June 29, 2016

Here is an excerpt:

When mainstream economists began to question that individuals are entirely self-interested, their approach was to retain utility-maximization and preference functions, but to make them “other-regarding” so that some notion of altruism could be maintained. But such an individual is still self-serving, rather than being genuinely altruistic in a wider and more adequate sense. While “other regarding” he or she is still egotistically maximizing his or her own utility. As Deirdre McCloskey  put it, the economic agent is still Max U.

There is now an enormous body of empirical research confirming that humans have cooperative as well as self-interested dispositions. But many accounts conflate morality with altruism or cooperation. By contrast, Darwin established a distinctive and vital additional role for morality. Darwin’s argument counters the idea of unalloyed self-interest and the notion that morality can be reduced to a matter of utility or preference.

A widespread view among moral philosophers is that moral judgments cannot be treated as matters of mere preference or utility maximization. Morality means “doing the right thing.” It entails notions of justice that can over-ride our preferences or interests. Moral judgments are by their nature inescapable. They are buttressed by emotional feelings and reasoned argument. Morality differs fundamentally from matters of mere convenience, convention or conformism. Moral feelings are enhanced by learned cultural norms and rules. Morality is a group phenomenon involving deliberative, emotionally-driven and purportedly inescapable rules that apply to a community.

The article is here.