Tuesday, June 19, 2012

A Response by Herbert Gintis

Herbert Gintis has sent me a response to my post on A Cooperative Species.  He has given me permission to post it here:

"Thanks for your careful consideration of our book.

"I never talk about our experimental results without mentioning their implications for the market/morality relationship.  We did not bring this up in the book because the book is not about the modern period, or about market economies.  Similarly, we totally agree that Pinker is probably correct about the decline in violence, but this also has nothing to do with our book.

"I chose the term 'strong reciprocity' to distinguish it form Trivers' term.  I admit it is not great, but it has caught on.  We also use the terms 'altruistic punishment' and 'altruistic cooperation' in the book, and I don't believe we have used the term strong reciprocity in journal articles in years.

"But I think you go overboard in criticizing it.  The idea is that of the categorical imperative: I help you because it is the right thing to do, in that I would expect you to help me in the same situation.

"Your contention that the idea is confused is, I think, not true and not important.  The idea that prosocial behavior will deteriorate if there is a generally high rate of defection is not in the least in conflict with the assertion that an act of helping or hurting is carried out without expectation of future reward as a result of that action.

"You are also incorrect in your saying that we believe altruism is absolute.  We do not believe this at all.  We argue that individuals have moral elements in their objective functions, and they trade off among goals.  If the price of behaving altruistically is too high, they will refrain from so behaving.

"I don't know why you are so hard on us.  We do not disagree on any political or moral issues, and I can't think of any scientific differences either.

"Your review would be better if you put your own alternative front and center.  Otherwise, you just sound like you're picking around the edges."

I anticipate that I will be writing some more posts on the work of Gintis and Bowles, which will indicate that we really are, as Gintis suggests here, in basic agreement on most important issues.

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