Happiness and Revealed Preferences in Evolutionary Perspective

25 Pages Posted: 8 May 2009  

Richard A. Epstein

New York University School of Law; Stanford University - Hoover Institution on War, Revolution and Peace; University of Chicago - Law School

Abstract

How do we understand human nature? The purpose of this Essay is to examine the relationship between human nature and social institutions. More concretely, the question is: What does an accurate account of human nature tell us about the choice of a desirable set of social institutions? Accounts of this sort typically focus on two key sticking points, one of ends and the other of means. On the former, Is individual self-interest the driving force behind all forms of human behavior? Do people care about themselves first? In the extreme, improbable, answer to this query, ordinary people do not care about any other individuals at all. In more modest versions, they display a degree of empathy and concern for their fellow individuals, best captured by Hume’s memorable phrase of “confin’d generosity.” On the latter, Do these (self-interested) persons select the proper, i.e., lowest cost, means to reach their chosen ends under conditions of uncertainty? Within the standard versions of neoclassical economics, both of these premises - self-interest and rationality - are generally posited as true.

Suggested Citation

Epstein, Richard A., Happiness and Revealed Preferences in Evolutionary Perspective. Vermont Law Review, Vol. 33, 2009; Emotion in Context: Exploring the Interaction between Emotions and Legal Institutions Conference, University of Chicago Law School, May 2008. Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=1401475

Richard A. Epstein (Contact Author)

New York University School of Law ( email )

40 Washington Square South
New York, NY 10012
United States
(212) 992-8858 (Phone)
(212) 995-4894 (Fax)

Stanford University - Hoover Institution on War, Revolution and Peace

Stanford, CA 94305-6010
United States

University of Chicago - Law School ( email )

1111 E. 60th St.
Chicago, IL 60637
United States
773-702-9563 (Phone)
773-702-0730 (Fax)

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