Happiness and Revealed Preferences in Evolutionary Perspective
25 Pages Posted: 8 May 2009
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.
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