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Herbert Gintis Moral Sense and Material Interests INTRODUCTION THE SUCCESS OF HOMO SAPIENS, AS MEASURED BY ITS RAPID POPULATION growth and its inexorable spread over the face of the earth in the past 10,000 years, is based on the ability of humans to cooperate effectively in large groups with unrelated others.* What aspect o f the human constitution is responsible for this ability? Since the Enlightenment there have been three competing views. The Romantic view, exemplified by Jean-Jacques Rousseau, the utopian socialists, and Karl Marx, consider people to be fundamentally moral and altruistic, though corrupted by the materialism of civilized life. Social institutions that tap this moral power, the Romantics fore­ saw, will arise that eclipse traditional societies and lead to a new era of human prosperity and equality. The Classical view, exemplified by Thomas Hobbes and David Hume, and neatly incorporated into contem­ porary economic theory and evolutionary biology, holds that people are fundamentally self-interested, although long-run enlightened selfinterest may at times appear superficially to be moral and altruistic. The good society, in this view, harnesses human self-regard to the task of social betterment by providing the appropriate incentives for people to act in the interest of the social whole. Finally, the tabula rasa view ofJohn Locke and the founders of modem sociology and anthropology, holds that people are so widely malleable by their social environment that the very concept of human nature must be rejected. In terms of social policy, this view tends to agree with the Romantic view that an social research Voi 73 : No 2 : Summer 200 6 377 appropriate cultural environment is sufficient to ensure a high level of social cooperation. In this paper I describe the results of recent research that prom­ ises to resolve the traditional controversies concerning human nature, but that gives rise to novel problems that will likely occupy a new gener­ ation of researchers. The new data suggest that all three traditional views have important grains o f truth and basic insights to contribute to a general model of human social behavior, but each is one-sided and fatally incomplete. Moreover, the social policy implications of this new view are extremely contingent on a variety of data that will take many years and considerable research effort. Once obtained, however, we can expect both our vision of the Good Society and the analysis of social policy to rest on far more secure scientific grounds than in the past. Briefly, this new evidence suggests that a) there is human nature, in the form of predispositions to be more or less responsive to different social stimuli; b) in the context of the traditional capitalist marketplace, these predispositions are well captured by the rational self-interested Homo economicus of traditional economic theory, thus partially support­ ing the Classical view; but c) where substantive strategic interaction of individuals occurs, individuals exhibit normative and ethical forms o f cooperation-enhancing behavior, thus partially supporting the Romantic view; and finally d) the content of normative behavior is highly dependent on the dominant cultural institutions that regulate social life, so cultural differences translate into predictable behavioral differences, thus partially supporting the tabula rasa view. One such trait, strong reciprocity is a predisposition to cooperate with others, and to punish those who violate the norms of cooperation, at personal cost, even when it is implausible to expect that these costs will be repaid. Although most of the evidence reported in this article is based on behavioral experiments, the same behaviors are regularly described in everyday life, for example in wage setting by firms, tax compliance, and cooperation in the protection of the local environ­ ment (Gintis et al„ 2005). 378 social research It is important to note that the altruism inherent in strong reci­ procity is not the unconditional sort usually described in the Romantic view of human nature, but rather highly contingent on the proper behavior of the recipient. In addition, the notion of altruistic punishment, which lies at the heart of strong reciprocity, is generally ignored by all traditional views of human nature. Indeed, altruism is tradition­ ally considered as necessarily helping the recipient, whereas altruistic punishment helps maintain the norms of...


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