Behavior of this sort poses a fundamental challenge to those who relieve that people generally pursue self-interest. Philosophers, biologist, economist, and others have invested much effort trying to account for it.
Many actions, purposely taken with full knowledge of their consequences are irrational.
The message of this literature id that passions are alwayssomething we do better to control.
The apparent contradiction arises not because of any hidden gains from the impassioned actions themselves, but because we face important problems that simply cannot be solved by rational action.
The clear irony here is that this ability, which springs from a failure to pursue self-interest, confers genuine advantages.
The problem is that being unable to makecredible commitments will often be even more costly.
At least partly on the basis of such clues, we form judgments about the emotional makeup of the people with whom we deal. Some people we sense we can trust, but of others we remain every wary. Some we sense can be taken advantage of, others we know instinctively not to provoke.
The problem of mimicry
Here, we will see that self-interestoften requires commitment to behave in ways that will, if triggered, prove deeply contrary to our interest.
Much of the time, the practical means for accomplishing these commitment will be emotions that have observable symptoms.
A simple thought experiment
The critical assumption behind the commitment model, again, is that people can make reasonable inferences about character traits inothers. By “reasonable inference” I do not mean that it is necessary to be able to predict other people’s emotional predispositions with certainly.
The importance of taste
The self-interest model assumes certain tastes and constrains, and then calculates what actions will best serve those tastes.
The inclusion of tastes that help solve commitment problems substantially alters thepredictions of self-interest models.
There is nothing mystical about the emotions that drive these behaviors. On the contrary, they are an obvious part of most people’s psychological makeup.
Motives for honesty
Character influences behavior, of course. But behavior also influences character. Despite our obvious capacities for self-deception and rationalization, few people can maintain apredisposition to behave honestly while at the same time frequently engaging in transparently opportunistic behavior.
For opportunistic persons, however, such appeals have not proved compelling. They reason, with seemingly impeccable logic, that their own behavior will not much affect what others do.
The altruism paradox
The flint-eyed researcher fears no greater humiliation than to have called someaction altruistic, only to have a more sophisticated colleague later demonstrate that it was self-serving. This fear surely helps account for the extraordinary volume of ink behavioral scientist have spent trying to unearth selfish motives for seemingly self-sacrificing acts.
Biologists have made numerous attempts to explain behavior that, on its face,appears self-sacrificing. Many of these make use of William option of kin selection. According to William, an individual will often be able to promote its own genetic future by making sacrifices on behalf of others who carry copies of its genes.
The kin-selection model predicts that parents will make “altruistic” sacrifices on behalf of their offspring, brothers on behalf of sisters and so on.Viewed from one perspective, the behavior accounted for by the kin-selection model is not really self-sacrificing behavior at all. When an individual helps relative, it is merely helping that part of itself that is embodied in the relative’s genes. The kin-selection model predicts a small payoff indeed from helping them.
To be sure, our ancestors did exist in small kin groups during most of the...