Egoism, Altruism, and Market Illusions: The Limits of Law and Economics

38 Pages Posted: 17 Oct 2006

See all articles by Jeffrey Lynch Harrison

Jeffrey Lynch Harrison

University of Florida - Levin College of Law


The primary objective of this Article is to question assumptions in order to show that the conventional economic approach to law and public policy has limited value. The arguments are founded on empirical evidence drawn from many fields of study. An underlying theme is that the current application of economic analysis to law should be regarded as an interim step toward the integration of law with the behavioral, natural, and social sciences.

Part I describes the two forms of the self-interest assumption more completely. This examination reveals that economics and the separate study of law and economics are caught in a dilemma, unable to embrace completely either of the two versions of the self-interest assumption. Egoism is an empty concept, and narrow self-interest asks us to ignore higher order preferences and altruism. Part II focuses on the narrow self-interest assumption and illustrate why its application to law is inappropriate. In Part III the problems of relying on choices, including market choices, as indicators of preference are examined.

Suggested Citation

Harrison, Jeffrey Lynch, Egoism, Altruism, and Market Illusions: The Limits of Law and Economics. UCLA Law Review, Vol. 33, June 1986. Available at SSRN:

Jeffrey Lynch Harrison (Contact Author)

University of Florida - Levin College of Law ( email )

P.O. Box 117625
Gainesville, FL 32611-7625
United States

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