Document de travail

Morality: evolutionary foundations and policy implications

Ingela Alger et Jörgen W. Weibull


Since the publication of Adam Smithís Wealth of Nations, it has been customary among economists to presume that economic agents are purely selfinterested. 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 we have carried out theoretical investigations into the evolutionary foundations of human motivation (Alger and Weibull 2013, 2016). We found that natural selection, in starkly simpliÖed but mathematically well-structured environments, favors preferences that combine self-interest with morality. Roughly speaking, the moral component evaluates oneís own action in terms of what would happen, if, hypothetically, this action were adopted by others. Such moral preferences have important implications for economic behavior. They motivate individuals to contribute to public goods, to give fair o§ers when they could get away with cheap o§ers, and to contribute to social institutions and act in environmentally friendly ways even if their individual impact is negligible.

Remplacé par

Ingela Alger et Jörgen W. Weibull, « Morality: evolutionary foundations and economic implications », dans The State of Economics, the State of the World, sous la direction de Kaushik Basu, David Rosenblatt et Claudia Sepulveda, 2020.


Ingela Alger et Jörgen W. Weibull, « Morality: evolutionary foundations and policy implications », TSE Working Paper, n° 16-702, septembre 2016.

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Publié dans

TSE Working Paper, n° 16-702, septembre 2016