The conceptual construction of altruism: Ernst fehr’s experimental approach to human conduct

Philosophy of the Social Sciences 37 (1):3-23 (2007)
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I offer an appreciation and critique of Ernst Fehr’s altruism research in experimental economics that challenges the "selfishness axiom" as an account of human behavior. I describe examples of Fehr’s experiments and their results and consider his conceptual terminology, particularly his "biological" definition of altruism and its counterintuitive implications. I also look at Fehr’s experiments from a methodological perspective and examine his explanations of subjects’ behavior. In closing, I look at Fehr’s neuroscientific work in experimental economics and question his adherence to a subjective expected utility interpretation of subjects’ behavior. Key Words: altruism • Ernst Fehr • strong reciprocity • neuroeconomics • experimental economics.



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