Other-Regarding Preferences & Moral Philosophy
Experimental economics broadens the preference domain to account for people's altruistic behaviour. That is, it considers one's own preference and social motivations as inseparable companions. In contrast, prominent amongst some of the most influential moral philosophers (e.g., Kant, 1785) is the idea that people's motivation for action, if moral, has to be strictly disinterested. That is, independent from one's own preferences or inclinations (4:397 - 4:399). This view is not alien to economics, which has seen how some of its most influential members (e.g., Harsanyi, 1955; Sen, 1977; and Smith and Wilson, 2019) advocate for similar views. In my research I use some ideas present in moral philosophy to develop new models of decision making, and test the extent to which these new models are causal explanations of behaviour when controlling for canonical models of other-regarding preferences.
Methodology of Economics & Philosophy of Science
Do we have ex-ante knowledge of the motivations underlying people's behaviour, or is the knowledge about such motivational factors dependent on observation? Is the realism of assumptions in economic models relevant for the models' epistemological value? Can two empirically-equivalent theories, but different in their assumptions, hold different relevant knowledge regarding people's underlying motivations for action? Are some important economic models, like revealed preference, value-laden? And, if so, what does this imply about those models and about the inferences that we can make from observational data if we hold these models as scientific paradigms? Can we test assumptions of a particular model in isolation? And, relatedly, can any experimental data allow us to make inferences about single assumptions of a specific model? These, among others, are crucial questions, and their answers ought to shape the direction of our discipline. In a long-term project, my aim is to investigate these, among other, questions in detail; and argue for a mixture of empiricism, realism, holism, and a value-free conception of the economics science.
Food for Thought
... and perhaps the reasons to be offer'd may prove ... that what excites us to these Actions which we call virtuous, is ... an entirely different Principle of Action from Interest or Self-Love
Francis Hutcheson, 1725, An Enquiry into the Original of Our Ideas of Beauty and Virtue
There are mental passions, by which we are impelled immediately to seek particular objects ... without any regard to interest
David Hume, 1777, An Enquiry Concerning the Principles of Morals, Appendix II. Of Self-Love
... there are many souls ... that, without any other motive of ... self-interest they ... can take delight in the satisfaction of others ... . But I assert that in such a case an action of this kind, however ... amiable it may be, has nevertheless no true moral worth
Immanuel Kant, 1785, Groundwork of the Metaphysics of Morals, 4:398