Monday, July 30, 2012

C. S. Lewis, Sigmund Freud, and the Question of God

A few days ago, I saw the play Freud's Last Session at the Mercury Theater in Chicago.  This play by Mark St. Germain presents C. S. Lewis meeting Sigmund Freud at Freud's home in London on the day that England entered World War Two.  They argue over their contrasting views of love, sex, the meaning of life and death, and the existence of God. 

In writing the dialogue, St. Germain drew all of his ideas from Armand Nicholi's book The Question of God: C. S. Lewis and Sigmund Freud Debate God, Love, Sex, and the Meaning of Life (Free Press, 2002).  Nicholi is a psychiatrist who has taught a popular course at Harvard University on "The Question of God" that centers on comparing the "materialist worldview" of Freud and the "spiritual worldview" of Lewis.  His book is based on his lectures for that course.

St. Germain's play differs from Nicholi's book on only one important point.  The play hints that Lewis had had a sexual affair with Mrs. Janie Moore--the mother of his friend Paddy, who died in World War Two.  Nicholi dismisses this possibility in one sentence (34).

This play is one of the most intellectually stimulating stage dramas I have ever seen.  It is rare to see such an effective and engaging dramatization of intellectual debate about the most important questions that human beings can ask themselves.  It is like a staging of a Socratic dialogue.  The script is wonderfully witty, thoughtful, and moving.  The acting by Mike Nussbaum (Freud) and Coburn Goss (Lewis) is excellent.

Performances will continue through September 23 at the Mercury Theater.  More information can be found at the website for the play.

Lewis is one of my favorite authors.  From my reading of both Lewis and Freud, I would say that both this play and Nicholi's book captures the essence of both men's lives and thoughts.  I also think both the play and the book provide a good start in thinking about the questions Lewis and Freud struggled over, and particularly the question of God.

I do have one reservation, however.  Both St. Germain's play and Nicholi's book are presented as if they were even-handed depictions of the debate between Lewis and Freud.  And yet to me it's clear that there's a clear bias in favor of Lewis.

The disingenuousness of Nicholi was suggested in an interview with the Harvard Gazette about his book.  He remarked:
Students always ask me, which side are you on? Half of them assume that because I'm a psychiatrist I must be a materialist. Others who embrace a spiritual perspective may make the opposite assumption. What I do is try to present an objective, dispassionate, critical assessment of both worldviews.
But then the author of the article observes:  "Nicholi's book, however, tells another story. In response to the question of happiness, the evidence is clear: Lewis wins, hands down."

I agree.  Both the book and the play are written so as to favor Lewis's position over Freud's.  It would have been more honest for Nicholi to begin his book by saying that his aim is to persuade the reader that Lewis's position is superior to Freud's.  (For some of the many examples in the book of Nicholi's taking the side of Lewis, see pp. 45, 50-51, 53-56, 66-72, 75, 77-79, 80, 92-94, 114-16, 123-25, 141-51, 157-59, 177-86, 188, 208-209, 218-25, 227-30, 242-44, 251-52.)

Nicholi explains that like his course, his book combines the writings of Lewis and Freud with their biographies.  "Their arguments can never prove or disprove the existence of God.  Their lives, however, offer sharp commentary on the truth, believability, and utility of their views" (5).  He invites his reader to "see if their biographies--how they actually lived their lives--strengthen or weaken their arguments and tell us more than their words convey" (9).  "Which one was right?  Their biographies shed light on this question" (107).

I don't object to combining arguments and biographies.  After all, that's exactly what is done in the Socratic dialogues of Plato and Xenophon.

My complaint, however, is that by choosing these two men for the debate, Nicholi and St. Germain have stacked the deck in favor of Lewis's argument, because Lewis was both morally and intellectually superior to Freud.  Regardless of what one thinks about the issues they debated, most people will--or should--see that while Lewis was a good human being, Freud was despicable.  (I first saw Freud's poor character years ago when I was reading both Freud and C. G. Jung, and I became disgusted with Freud's treatment of Jung.)

The title of the play--Freud's Last Session--is ambiguous.  Lewis jokes about being put on Freud's couch.  But by the end of the play, it's clear that Lewis has become the psychoanalyst and Freud the patient, and Freud has revealed the ugly depths of his character--arrogance, pettiness, shallowness, narcissism, and refusal to face up to his paralysing anger and fear.

The audience of St. Germain's play and the readers of Nicholi's book are meant to draw the conclusion that this proves the practical truth of Christianity, because a Christian like Lewis lives a happy, healthy life, while an atheist like Freud lives an unhappy, unhealthy life.

But notice the unexamined assumption:  there are only two choices--Christianity or atheism--and choosing Christianity means choosing the life of Lewis, while choosing atheism means choosing the life of Freud.

This is a false assumption because it ignores alternatives.  Consider how different the debate would look if we introduced a third character--for example, Aristotle, Montaigne, Hume, or Darwin--someone who would represent thoughtful skepticism, and who apparently lived a happy, healthy life.  Now we might have an alternative to Lewis who is far more attractive morally and intellectually than Freud.

Hume's Dialogues Concerning Natural Religion would be an example of a philosophical dialogue that presents Lewis's arguments while also challenging them more persuasively than Freud can.  In fact, many of Lewis's writings--like his Miracles book--are attempts to respond to Hume.

For example, a reasonable skeptic like Hume or Darwin might point out that while religious belief can reinforce morality, there is a natural morality rooted in human nature that can stand on its own even without religious belief.  In fact, this skeptic might observe, Lewis himself seems to acknowledge this when he speaks about the Tao as that universal, natural morality that is comprehensible to all human beings based on their natural experience of what is required to live a good life on earth.  And while that common morality is sometimes expressed in religious texts like the Bible, that common morality is independent of the Bible and other religious texts.  We can see that even in Lewis's "Illustrations of the Tao" in The Abolition of Man.  He selects some Biblical verses as illustrations of this morality, but he excludes those Biblical verses that would offend our moral sensibility--for example, Moses' brutal slaughter of the Midianites (Numbers 31) or the many verses supporting slavery--because he is passing the Bible through a moral filter that serves as a standard outside the Bible itself.

The reasonable skeptic might also question Lewis's beliefs about the afterlife.  The orthodox Christian tradition teaches that a few human beings will be rewarded with eternal happiness in Heaven, while most human beings will be punished with eternal torment in Hell.  Is this reasonable?  Does Lewis really think it is reasonable?  In his chapter on Hell in The Problem of Pain, Lewis tries to defend the traditional doctrine of Hell, but he clearly has doubts.  "Some will not be redeemed.  There is no doctrine which I would more willingly remove from Christianity than this, if it lay in my power" (118).  "We are told that it is a detestable doctrine--and indeed, I too detest it from the bottom of my heart--and are reminded of the tragedies in human life which have come from believing it" (119).  Does this suggest that Lewis agreed with Darwin about the teaching of Hell as a "damnable doctrine"?  Don't most Christians today doubt this teaching, because they assume that everyone goes to Heaven?

Nicholi reports that in the last days of his life, Lewis spent his time reading his favorite books--including Dante's Divine Comedy.  In Dante's Inferno, the virtuous pagans--those like Socrates, Plato, and Aristotle--are in Limbo, which seems to be a rather pleasant place to be, even though it's on the top edge of Hell.  Would Lewis agree that virtuous pagans lived good and happy lives, because they understood the natural grounds of the human good even without the benefit of Christian revelation?  If so, does that mean that Christian faith is not necessary for happiness?  These kinds of questions are not asked in Nicholi's book or St. Germain's play.

In Nicholi's book, there is one passage where he quotes from Lewis as recognizing the "lofty view" of death taken by the Stoics who thought death need not be feared (231).  But Lewis doesn't elaborate on this possibility.  Is this the philosopher's position, as manifest in the lives of skeptics like Socrates, Hume, and Darwin?

Finally, if it is true, as Nicholi says, that "their arguments can never prove or disprove the existence of God" (5), does this point to the irresolvability of the reason/revelation debate?  Would it be reasonable for the skeptical philosopher to recognize the inescapable tension between faith and reason--between the desire for religious understanding and the desire for intellectual understanding?   If so, then it might be reasonable to respect the dignified faith of a man like Lewis and to scorn the shallow atheism of a man like Freud, while refusing to make any dogmatic commitment to either faith or atheism.

Some of my posts on Lewis and related topics can be found here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, and here.

Friday, July 27, 2012

Gay Parenting and the Biological Conservatism of Kin Altruism

In 2005, the American Psychological Association (APA) issued an official report on lesbian and gay parenting.  The report concluded: "Not a single study has found children of lesbian or gay parents to be disadvantaged in any significant respect relative to children of heterosexual parents."  This report has been often cited by the proponents of gay marriage as refutation of the belief that legalizing gay marriage would harm the children who might be reared by gay parents.

That APA report has now been challenged by new research published in the July, 2012, issue of Social Science Research.  In one article, Loren Marks points to the serious methodological weaknesses in the research cited by the APA report.  In another article, Mark Regnerus reports new research suggesting that the children of gay and lesbian parents really do show a higher risk of social and psychological problems as compared with the children reared by heterosexual parents in stable marriages.  Regnerus has summarized his research in a popular essay for Slate.  Also at Slate, William Saletan has written a commentary on Regnerus' research.

This has provoked a fierce debate.  Some of the opponents of gay marriage are claiming that this proves that gays and lesbians cannot be good parents.  Some of the proponents of gay marriage are insisting that this research is so flawed that it does not prove anything.  The fact that this research was financed by $800,000 from the Bradley Foundation and the Witherspoon Institute--two conservative organizations--has been noted by some critics as evidence that the research suffers from bias.  (The Witherspoon Institute provides a website on this research with links to the various articles.)

Andrew Ferguson has written an article for The Weekly Standard on this controversy as showing "the perils of politically incorrect academic research."  But if one reads Ferguson's article carefully, one can see that he is critical not just of Regnerus' liberal opponents but also of the conservatives who are using Regnerus' research to attack gay marriage.  In fact, Ferguson suggests, the flaws in the gay parenting research--including Regnerus' research--are so pervasive that it's not clear that any firm conclusions can be drawn.

But I think there is at least one clear conclusion, which is stated by Saletan: "Kids do better when they have two committed parents, a biological connection, and a stable home.  If that's good advice for straights, it's good advice for gays, too." 

This supports my argument for the biological model of marriage and family bonding as part of a biological conservatism that looks to our evolved biological nature as a ground for moral and political judgment.  That biological model could support gay marriage as good for children insofar as it provides "two committed parents, a biological connection, and a stable home." 

Although conservatives like Robert George, Matt Franck, and others at the Witherspoon Institute would not agree with me that homosexual marriage could approximate the natural biological model, it's significant that they do now agree with me in appealing to human biological nature, and thus they no longer rely on a transcendental Kantian rationalism that denies the normative character of human biological nature.

The conclusions of the APA report of 2005 were based on 59 published studies.  Loren Marks shows that this report failed to recognize the many methodological flaws in these studies.  For example, she concludes, "with rare exceptions, the research does not include studies comparing children raised by two-parent, same-sex couples with children raised by marriage-based, heterosexual couples" (742).  The sample sizes in these studies tend to be very small, and they tend to be biased in various ways--as, for instance, in studying only the children of well-educated, middle-class, lesbian mothers.  In many cases, the children of gay parents are compared with the children of single heterosexual mothers, rather than with the children of still-married heterosexual parents.  Moreover, the APA report does not cite at least one study that concludes that "children of homosexual parents report deviance in higher proportions than children of (married or cohabiting) heterosexual couples" (744).

As an alternative to the weak research surveyed in the APA report, Regnerus has written the first report from the New Family Structures Study, which he claims to be the largest, random dataset designed to answer questions about households in which one or both of the parents were homosexual.  Young adults (between the ages of 18 and 39) were surveyed.  They were asked if their mother or father had ever had a romantic relationship with a same-sex partner.  175 answered yes for their mothers, and 73 answered yes for their fathers.  These children of lesbian mothers and gay fathers were then compared with the children of heterosexual parents.  The children of the homosexual parents were more likely to show signs of problems in their lives than were the children of heterosexual parents.  For example, the children of homosexual parents were more likely to be unemployed, more likely to have had an affair while married or cohabiting, and more likely to be in treatment for psychological problems.

The problem with this study, however, as even Regnerus admits, is that most of these children of homosexual parents were products of broken homes.  Most of these children were products of a "failed heterosexual union" in which a lesbian mother or a gay father left the household after the children were born.  If these children were less healthy than the children from stable heterosexual households, that probably shows the damage from broken homes.

Saletan writes:
     "What the study shows, then, is that kids from broken homes headed by gay people develop the same problems as kids from broken homes headed by straight people.  But that finding isn't meaningless.  It tells us something important: We need fewer broken homes among gays, just as we do among straights.  We need to study Regnerus's sample and fix the mistakes we made 20 or 40 years ago.  No more sham heterosexual marriages.  No more post-parenthood self-discoveries.  No more deceptions.  No more affairs.  And no more polarization between homosexuality and marriage.  Gay parents owe their kids the same stability as straight parents.  That means less talk about marriage as a right, and more about marriage as an expectation."
    " The study does raise a fundamental challenge for same-sex couples.  Since they can't produce children from their combined gametes, they suffer, in Regnerus' words, "a diminished context of kin altruism."  He points out that in studies of adoption, stepfamilies, and cohabitation, this kinship deficit has "typically proven to be a risk setting, on average, for raising children when compared with married, biological parenting."  Homosexuals who want to have kids could emulate the biological model by using eggs or sperm from a sibling of the non-biological parent, though the effects of this practice on family dynamics are unknown."
If lesbian women and gay men have the same natural desires for sexual mating, conjugal bonding, and parental care as heterosexual men and women, and if gay marriage increases the likelihood of gays living in households with "two committed parents, a biological connection, and a stable home," this would support a biologically conservative argument for legalizing gay marriage.

A few of my previous posts on this topic--with responses to Robert George and Matt Franck--can be found here, here, and here.

Saturday, July 21, 2012

What Does "Survival of the Fittest" Mean?

In the popular mind, any reference to Darwin, Darwinism, or evolution calls up the idea of "survival of the fittest," which is generally understood to mean relentless and ruthless competition in which the strong prevail over the weak--"might makes right."  That's the main reason why Darwinian science is so often associated with a morally repugnant view of life.

This is a mistake.  But to see why requires a long story.

The story starts in 1864 with the publication of Herbert Spencer's Principles of Biology.  Spencer was trying to reconcile his theory of evolution by the inheritance of acquired traits with Darwin's theory of evolution by natural selection.  Darwin accepted Spencer's Lamarckian theory of evolution--the inheritance of acquired traits.  But Darwin's distinctive idea was to emphasize natural selection as the main mechanism of evolution: if certain heritable traits increase or decrease the chances of survival and reproduction in the struggle for life, then those traits that favor survival and reproduction will increase in frequency over generations, and thus organisms will become more adapted to their environments, and over a long period of time the differences between varieties of a species can become so great that the varieties become new species. 

Although by 1864 Spencer had accepted Darwin's idea of natural selection, Spencer still insisted that the most complex forms of adaptation would require a Lamarckian process:  an organism would adopt new habits in response to a changing environment, and as these habits produced heritable changes in the organism, the organism would become better adapted to its environment.  In writing about Darwin's theory of natural selection, Spencer coined the phrase "survival of the fittest," a phrase that Darwin had never used.

By 1864, four editions of Darwin's Origin of Species had been published.  Darwin had used the phrase "natural selection" as a metaphorical expression suggesting a likeness to "artificial selection."  Just as human breeders of domesticated plants and animals select those heritable traits that they preferred, and thus plants and animals became adapted through selective breeding for human purposes, so nature could select those heritable variations in plants and animals that enhanced the chances for survival and reproduction, and thus organisms would become adapted to their environments through natural selection.

On July 2nd, 1866, Alfred Russel Wallace wrote to Darwin, telling him that many readers of the Origin were confused by his use of the expression "natural selection."  By personifying Nature as "selecting" or "preferring" some forms of life, and by comparing natural selection to the selective activity of plant and animal breeders, Darwin was leading many readers to assume that evolution requires direction by an intelligent agent to some purpose, and thus they were misunderstanding Darwin's metaphor as if it were literal.  Wallace suggested that Darwin could avoid this confusion by adopting Spencer's term "survival of the fittest" as a substitute for "natural selection."

Three days later, Darwin wrote back to Wallace.  Darwin recognized the problem indicated by Wallace, and he promised to start using Spencer's phrase.  But he still preferred the term "natural selection" because it could be easily used as a noun governing a verb, and because it emphasized the connection between natural and artificial selection that was important for Darwin's argument.

In 1868, Darwin's book The Variation of Animals and Plants Under Domestication was published, and the phrase "survival of the fittest" was used six times.  Then, in the fifth edition of Origin, Darwin inserted this phrase in thirteen places.  But instead of deleting "natural selection," as Wallace had recommended, Darwin inserted "survival of the fittest" as a synonymous phrase.  So, for example, the title of Chapter 4 of Origin was changed from "Natural Selection" to "Natural Selection; or the Survival of the Fittest."  He also added some remarks to explain and defend his use of the term "natural selection."

In the Introduction to Variation, he wrote:
This preservation, during the battle for life, of varieties which possess any advantage in structure, constitution, or instinct, I have called Natural Selection; and Mr. Herbert Spencer has well expressed the same idea by the Survival of the Fittest.  The term "natural selection" is in some respects a bad one, as it seems to imply conscious choice; but this will be disregarded after a little familiarity.  No one objects to chemists speaking of "elective affinity"; and certainly an acid has no more choice in combining with a base, than the conditions of life have in determining whether or not a new form be selected or preserved.  The term is so far a good one as it brings into connection the production of domestic races by man's power of selection, and the natural preservation of varieties and species in a state of nature.  For brevity sake I sometimes speak of natural selection as an intelligent power; in the same way as astronomers speak of the attraction of gravity as ruling the movements of the planets, or as agriculturalists speak of man making domestic races by his power of selection.  In the one case, as in the other, selection does nothing without variability, and this depends in some manner on the action of the surrounding circumstances on the organism.  I have, also, often personified the word Nature; for I have found it difficult to avoid this ambiguity; but I mean by nature only the aggregate action and product of many natural laws,--and by laws only the ascertained sequence of events.  (I, 6-7)
One sees here a conflict in Darwin's rhetorical style of writing.  On the one hand, he tells the reader to disregard his metaphorical personification of Nature as implying "conscious choice" or "intelligent power," because nature should be understood as "only the aggregate action and product of many natural laws."  On the other hand, he refuses to give up his personification of Nature, apparently because he senses that this engages the mind of the reader through the poetic imagery of Nature as a person.

The anthropomorphic image of Nature as a woman (Mother Nature?) is often vivid in The Origin of Species.   For instance, Darwin writes:
     As man can produce and certainly has produced a great result by his methodical and unconscious means of selection, what may not nature effect?  Man can act only on external and visible characters: nature cares nothing for appearances, except in so far as they may be useful to any being.  She can act on every internal organ, on every shade of constitutional difference, on the whole machinery of life.  Man selects only for his own good; Nature only for that of the being which she tends. . . . Can we wonder, then, that nature's productions should be far "truer" in character than man's productions; that they should be infinitely better adapted to the most complex conditions of life, and should plainly bear the stamp of far higher workmanship?
     It may be said that natural selection is daily and hourly scrutinizing, throughout the world, every variation, even the slightest; rejecting that which is bad, preserving and adding up all that is good; silently and insenibly working, whenever and wherever opportunity offers, at the improvement of each organic being in relation to its organic and inorganic conditions of life. . . .
      Although natural selection can act only through and for the good of each being, yet characters and structures, which we are apt to consider as of very trifling importance, may thus be acted on. . . . (1859, 83-84)
This passage comes from the first edition.  In the sixth edition, Darwin inserted "metaphorically" after "It may" in the second paragraph.  So when Darwin is criticized for personifying Nature as an intelligent designer showing "higher workmanship," he can respond by saying this is only a metaphor that should not be taken literally. 

But isn't this a bit disingenuous?  He wants to evoke in the reader's mind--perhaps unconsciously--the intuitive sense that nature is governed by a wise and benevolent designer.  (Today, some evolutionary theorists would say that this is an evolved tendency of the human mind to project anthropomorphic mental agency onto the cosmos.)  But if Darwin is questioned about this, he will answer that we should disregard his metaphorical language and recognize that nature is "only the action and aggregate product of many natural laws."

Darwin depicts natural selection here as preserving the good and rejecting the bad, as acting "for the good of each being."  But what's the standard here of good and bad?

In the paragraph immediately preceding the paragraph from Variation quoted above,  Darwin speaks of the Struggle for Existence, and he writes: "It has truly been said that all nature is at war; the strongest ultimately prevail, the weakest fail; and we know that myriads of forms have disappeared from the face of the earth."  So the strong prevail over the weak?  So does this mean that interpreting the "survival of the fittest" as the rule of the stronger is really correct, and thus Darwinism ultimately promotes immoralism or nihilism?

In The Origin of Species, Darwin says nothing about morality.  In this book, the "good of each being" seems to be nothing more than being well adapted for survival and reproduction, and in the competition for survival and reproduction, the strong will prevail over the weak.  But in The Descent of Man, Darwin offers his evolutionary theory of morality as unique to human beings.  The naturally evolved moral sense of human beings allows us to sympathize with the victims of injustice and to feel resentment against those who exploit them.

As I have indicated in some previous posts, Darwin saw how the Europeans exploited native people in South America, Australia, and New Zealand.  He could see how the Europeans were using their power to extinguish native peoples, and he could imagine that this illustrated the long evolutionary history of tribal warfare as a factor in human evolution.  But he could also condemn this as unjust and try to elicit moral emotions that would motivate moral reform.  The best example of this was his opposition to slavery.

Darwin could be a moral realist.  As a realist, he could recognize the dark side of evolutionary history in which tribal warfare seemed to mean that "might makes right."  But as a moralist, he could condemn unjust violence and exploitation to elicit moral reform so that "right makes might."  Unfortunately, the popular understanding of Darwinism often saw Darwin's realism but not his moralism.

Similarly, Spencer was accused of promoting "survival of the fittest" understood as a crude endorsement of selfish greed and immoral power-seeking.  In his essay "Mr. Martineau on Evolution," Spencer explained that "survival of the fittest" does not mean "survival of the better" or "survival of the superior."  "Survival of the fittest" means the survival of those who are adapted to the conditions of life in which they are placed.  This does not mean that they are superior or better in any sense, and certainly not in any moral sense.

The most common mistake in the popular caricature of Spencer is that for him "survival of the fittest" required that no charity should be extended to the poor or the disabled, so that the "unfit" should perish.  That this is not true is clear if one reads Spencer's Principles of Ethics, which concludes with 18 chapters on the ethics of altruism, sympathy, and beneficence.  He opposed coercive state-enforced charity.  But he saw voluntary charity as a moral obligation properly enforced by private and public moral sentiments.

Spencer was more utopian than Darwin in that Spencer foresaw that inevitably the cooperative dispositions of human beings would become so well developed that they would cooperate with one another spontaneously without any need for formal law or government.  Human history would find its end in perfect anarchy.  Spencer's mistake was not in being a moral nihilist, but in being a moral utopian.

Darwin did not embrace Spencer's utopian anarchism.  Actually, Darwin was always a bit ambivalent about Spencer.  He saw philosophic genius in Spencer.  But he also thought he was inclined to vague, abstract speculation that was not constrained by a careful observation of facts.  Darwin's disdain for Spencer comes through most clearly in his correspondence with J. D. Hooker in 1862-1866 and in his Autobiography, where he wrote:
Herbert Spencer's conversation seemed to me very interesting, but I did not like him particularly, and did not feel that I could easily have become intimate with him.  I think that he was extremely egotistical.  After reading any of his books, I generally feel enthusiastic admiration for his transcendent talents, and have often wondered whether in the distant future he would rank with such great men as Descartes, Leibnitz, etc., about whom, however, I know very little.  Nevertheless I am not conscious of having profited in my own work by Spencer's writings.  His deductive manner of treating every subject is whole opposed to my frame of mind.  His conclusions never convince me: and over and over again I have said to myself, after reading one of his discussions,--"Here would be a fine subject for half-a-dozen years' work."  His fundamental generalizations (which have been compared in importance by some persons with Newton's laws!)--which I daresay may be very valuable under a philosophical point of view, are of such a nature that they do not seem to me to be of any strictly scientific use.  They partake more of the nature of definitions than of laws of nature.  They do not aid one in prediciting what will happen in any particular case.  Anyhow they have not been of any use to me. (ed. Nora Barlow, 1959, pp. 108-109)

Darwin's correspondence is conventiently available at the Darwin Correspondence Project.

Robert Richards has written a good short paper on comparing Darwin and Spencer.  Unfortunately, Richards is so determined to build up Spencer's reputation that he plays down Darwin's scorn for Spencer.

Some of my posts on related themes can be found here, here, here, here, here, here, and here.

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

The First Darwinian Left?

In 1998 and 1999, when Peter Singer proposed a "Darwinian left" as a "new paradigm" for the left, he presented this as an alternative to the "traditional left," and particularly the Marxist left.  Generally, he argued, the left had not interpreted Darwin correctly.  The left had assumed that in explaining human evolution as a product of the "struggle for existence," Darwin had understood human life--and all life--as shaped by the competition of individuals, which supported the view of human nature favored by liberal individualism, rather than the view of the left that emphasized the human need for social cooperation.  This was a mistake because Darwin's account of human evolution, particularly in The Descent of Man, argued that human beings evolved as social animals with moral and intellectual capacities that allowed them to cooperate within their families and groups in ways that enhanced their survival and reproduction.  Only recently, Singer claimed, has this cooperative side of Darwinism been brought into clear view by the work of sociobiologists and evolutionary psychologists who see that human beings are evolved to be both competitive and cooperative.  And while this denies the utopian dream of the traditional left for human perfectibility, it does allow for a Darwinian left to work for a more cooperative society.

According to Singer, the only person on the left who saw this cooperative side of Darwinism was Peter Kropotkin, in his book Mutual Aid, who saw that Darwin's Descent recognized cooperation between animals of the same species as a factor of evolution.  Since human beings were naturally cooperative, Kropotkin argued, they did not need government, which actually impeded their natural cooperation, and they would be more cooperative without government.  Thus, Kropotkin's anarchism lessened his influence with the traditional left, particularly Marxists.

There's one big mistake in Singer's story:  he ignores the long period from 1859 to World War II when many people on the left--socialists and progressive liberals--identified themselves as Darwinians.  It was only after the Second World War that those on the left generally rejected any Darwinian understanding of morality and politics as tainted by the seemingly right-wing history of "Social Darwinism."  It was this later turn away from Darwin that explains why the left reacted with such vehement scorn to the publication of Edward O. Wilson's Sociobiology in 1975.  When Barack Obama condemns his opponents as Social Darwinists, he is manifesting this leftist tradition of scorn for Darwinism.

To correct Singer's story, David Stack has written The First Darwinian Left: Socialism and Darwinism, 1859-1914 (2003).  Stack shows the influence of Darwinian ideas on the history of British socialism, particularly the tradition that led into the Independent Labour Party of  Great Britain, which defended its socialist position against Marxism on the left and liberalism on the right.  He identifies a long line of Darwinian socialists, including Alfred Russel Wallace, Annie Besant, Eduard Bernstein, Karl Kautsky, and Ramsay MacDonald.  (Stack's book elaborates an argument first stated in an article available online.)

Stack succeeds in so far as he shows that many of the socialists who were looking for an alternative to Marxist revolution employed Darwinian language in arguing for an evolutionary socialism that would emerge gradually through democratic reforms.  These socialists saw the evolutionary process as a progressive movement towards ever greater cooperation, so that the competitive individualism of capitalism was only a temporary stage on the road to the cooperative society of socialism.

Although he does not express it in this way, Stack's argument can be stated as three premises leading to a conclusion:

1.  Darwinism provides a scientific explanation of the human propensity to social cooperation as part of our evolved human nature, and thus it denies atomistic individualism.

2.  Classical liberalism promotes atomistic individualism, and thus it denies the human propensity to social cooperation.

3.  Socialism promotes social cooperation as superior to atomistic individualism.

Therefore, Darwinism supports socialism.

Stack helps us to see the plausibility in this line of reasoning as explaining the history of Darwinian socialism.  But I see at least five weaknesses in Stack's argument.

The first weakness is that Charles Darwin himself never identified support for socialism as a necessary conclusion from his science.  Stack quotes (p. 2) from a letter that Darwin wrote in December 26, 1879, in which he wrote to a Dr. Scherzer: "What a foolish idea seems to prevail in Germany on the connection between Socialism and Evolution through Natural Selection."  Far from being a socialist, Darwin was an enthusiastic supporter of the Liberal Party, when liberalism was identified as classical liberalism.

Moreover, some of the Darwinian socialists admitted that there was no support in Darwin's writing for connecting evolution to socialism.  In Socialism and Society (1908), Ramsay MacDonald observed: "The influence of Darwinism upon Socialism does not depend upon whether Darwin's special theories of evolution do or do not lead to Socialism" (109).  Enrico Ferri began his Socialism and Positive Science (Darwin-Spencer-Marx) (1905) by admitting: "It is true that Darwin, and especially Spencer, stopped short half-way from the final conclusions of religious, political and social order, which necessarily follow from their indisputable premises" (xi).

Nevertheless, as Ferri suggests, one might argue that even if Darwin himself did not see the connection to socialism, Darwin's science necessarily leads to socialism as a final conclusion.  But to make such an argument, one would have to offer a careful reading of Darwin's Descent to show that the logic of Darwin's reasoning pointed to socialism.  In fact, none of the Darwinian socialists covered by Stack do this.  With the possible exception of Kropotkin, none of them make any effort to show how their socialist conclusions emerge necessarily from a meticulous reading of Darwin's Descent. 

This indicates the second weakness in Stack's argument.  He has to admit that socialist conclusions are only "loosely drawn from Darwinism" (56, 63, 119).  The Darwinism of Darwinian socialism consists of nothing more than some loose language of biological metaphors--"the organic and evolutionary metaphor" of the "social organism" (53, 79, 81, 119-20).  The metaphor of society as an organism comes more from Spencer than from Darwin, and Spencer stresses that the metaphorical likeness of a human society to a human body is incomplete because while a human body has one central nervous system and brain, a human society has no single mind beyond the separate minds of the individuals composing the society.  This is a crucial point, because the socialist use of the metaphor of the "social organism" presumes that the government in a socialist state can act as one mind over a whole society.

This points to the third weakness in Stack's argument.  The Darwinian socialists had to assume that the Darwinian evolution of cooperation was an evolution towards an ever more socialistic state (47, 60, 83, 120).  But this is not necessarily true.  As Stack admits, both Spencer and Kropotkin saw the natural evolution of cooperation as showing that the state was not necessary for cooperation, and that the state might even rightly be seen as an impediment to the cooperation that can naturally emerge in social life.

The weakness here in Stack's reasoning turns on what one means by "cooperation."  Does one mean voluntary cooperation or compulsory cooperation?  Contrary to the second premise in Stack's argument, classical liberalism does not assert an atomistic individualism that denies cooperation, because liberalism affirms the natural propensity of human beings for voluntary cooperation in society.  One can see that, for example, in Adam Smith's Theory of Moral Sentiments, which presents human beings as naturally other-regarding in their capacity for sympathy and moral sentiments, and it was this reasoning that Darwin adopted in his account of the evolution of the natural moral sense in his Descent of Man.  This is a fundamental claim of liberalism as promoting voluntary cooperation in society as superior to compulsory cooperation enforced by the state.

The natural evolution of cooperation is a recurrent theme of classical liberal thought.  So, for example, Ludwig von Mises in Human Action wrote: "The notion of the struggle for existence as Darwin borrowed it from Malthus is to be understood in a metaphorical sense. . . . It need not be a war of extermination. . . . Reason has demonstrated that, for man, the most adequate means of improving his condition is social cooperation and division of labor."

Classical liberals worry about the concentration of coercive power in the state because they worry about the natural tendency of human beings to be corrupted by the exercise of coercive rule over others.  This point is related to the fourth weakness in Stack's argument.  Stack criticizes Singer for arguing that leftists like Marx "know nothing at all about human nature," because, in fact, Stack claims, Marx had a concept of human nature (64).  But here Stack hides the important point that Singer is making. 

The remark that leftists like Marx "know nothing about human nature" is actually a quotation from the anarchist Mikhail Bakunin who predicted that a Marxist socialist regime would become tyrannical.  Bakunin wrote:  "And from the heights of the state they begin to look down upon the whole common world of the workers.  From that time on they represent not the people but themselves and their own claims to govern the people.  Those who doubt this know nothing at all about human nature." 

Marx responded to Bakunin by dismissing his "nightmares about authority" and his "hallucinations about domination."  Of course, Bakunin's nightmares about the tyranny of socialist statism turned out to be accurate prophecies.  Singer rightly observes that a Darwinian view of human nature would sustain Bakunin's belief about the corrupting effects of the natural desire for coercive power. 

At one point, Stack describes the British socialists as experiencing the "thrill of power," and he doesn't find this troublesome (120).  But perhaps he would say that in contrast to the Marxist socialists, the British socialists were not corrupted by the power of the state.

And yet, Stack has to recognize the morally repugnant commitment of many British socialists to coercive eugenic policies, which seems to me to be a fifth weakness in his argument.  Stack writes:
     In a number of ways, the eugenic analysis overlapped with a socialist exegesis of Darwinism--to such an extent that Galton's most important follower, Karl Pearson, defined himself as a socialist.  Firstly, eugenics was a collectivist doctrine.  Whereas Darwin had left the unit of natural selection undecided between the individual and the group, the notion of racial fitness demanded that natural selection be a group process.  Secondly, eugenics rested upon a positivistic faith in scientific rationality, and man's Promethean destiny to wrest control of his future, that echoed the agenda of most socialists.  Thirdly, the instrument of eugenic policy, what Galton called the "agencies under social control" intervening to improve "the racial qualities of future generations either physically or mentally" was to be the state.  This chimed with the socialist objective of a strong state overcoming the interests of petty individualism.  Fourthly, in the "positive" versions of eugenics, the state was to institute a social health programme that cared for mothers and babies.
     Thus, although eugenics did not, as is sometimes asserted, resuscitate the Enlightenment dream of perfectibility, it did hint at a "rational selection" that would dispose, once and for all, of laissez-faire individualism.  It did so, moreover, by substituting the human mind, in the form of the state, for the vicissitudes of nature.  As Galton put it, "what Nature does blindly, slowly, and ruthlessly, man may do providently, quickly, and kindly."  This, of course, was the essence of the socialist case.  No wonder historians of both inter-war Britain and France have suggested that we reassess our attitudes towards eugenics, and learn to see it as a progressive force in politics. (86-87)
Stack immediately tries to reject this idea of socialist eugenics by claiming that eugenics assumed a hard hereditarianism that was contrary to the environmentalist explanations of human behavior usually favored by the left.  But this is implausible since the very people that Stack regards as most representative of British socialism were enthusiastic about coercive eugenics.  Indeed, Stack must admit: "There was no question of socialists rejecting eugenics outright" (88).

Darwin rejected Galton's proposals for eugenics as utopian.  Darwin did suggest, however,  that Parliament should investigate the effects of inbreeding to see if cousin marriages might be dangerous. 

The general point here is that socialist eugenics illustrates the danger inherent in socialist statism, in "the socialist objective of a strong state overcoming the interests of petty individualism," and "substituting the human mind, in the form of the state, for the vicissitudes of nature."  If this is the "essence of the socialist case," as Stack indicates, then this illustrates the danger in the socialist preference for compulsory cooperation as opposed to the liberal preference for voluntary cooperation.

Some of my posts on related themes can be found here, here, here, here, and here.

Friday, July 13, 2012

The Darwinian Biology of Adam Smith's Reflective Liberal Sentimentalism

For almost 35 years, I have been thinking about how Darwinian biology might apply to the history of political philosophy.  My question has been, Does that biological science support some traditions of political thought over others?

From the beginning, I have been inclined to think that Darwinian biology tends to favor Aristotle's empiricist naturalism rather than Plato's transcendentalist rationalism.  Aristotle was a biologist.  And although his biology is not evolutionist, much of what he says about the biological roots of human morality and politics is confirmed by modern Darwinian biology.  By contrast, Plato's rationalism tends to disparage the biological nature of human beings in assuming that human excellence requires pure reason to rule over the passions and appetites of the body.

Aristotle was also a theorist of rhetoric, who defended the rhetorical character of moral and political judgment against Plato's rationalist denigration of rhetoric as irrational manipulation.  Crucial to Aristotle's defense of rhetoric was his social psychology of the human mind as combining reason and emotion.  Pure reason by itself cannot move us to action without the motivational power of emotion or desire.  That emotional motivation is not irrational, because we can reflect on our emotions and judge them as warranted or not.  This Aristotelian social psychology has been confirmed by Darwinian biology and social neuroscience, which show that human judgment requires a combination of reason and emotion as inextricably bound together.

Over the past 15 years, I have moved towards seeing this Aristotelian tradition of biological naturalism and rhetorical psychology as revived in the Scottish Enlightenment, particularly through the sentimentalism of David Hume and Adam Smith.  Charles Darwin adopted much of Hume's and Smith's reasoning about sympathy and the moral sentiments in explaining the evolution of the human moral sense.  Edward Westermarck then developed this Humean/Smithian/Darwinian account of ethics as rooted in the moral emotions of the human animal.  Recently, Westermarck's Darwinian psychology has been revived through the research in sociobiology, evolutionary psychology, and behavioral game theory.  Most recently, the neurological basis of this Darwinian psychology has been worked out through research in social neuroscience. 

The importance of Adam Smith's moral and political philosophy in all of this has been clarified by Michael Frazer's book The Enlightenment of Sympathy: Justice and the Moral Sentiments in the Eighteenth Century and Today (Oxford University Press, 2010).   Frazer argues that while the distinctive demand of Enlightenment liberalism was reflective autonomy--the freedom to reflect for ourselves in determining our moral and political standards--the Enlightenment thinkers disagreed about the character of this reflective autonomy.  The Enlightenment rationalists (like Kant in his later years) assumed that autonomy required the rule of reason over emotion and imagination, because the true self was identified as pure reason.  The Enlightenment sentimentalists (like Hume and Smith) assumed that autonomy required reflective choices by the mind as a whole, including not only reason but also emotion and imagination, because the true self was understood as embracing the whole human mind.

Frazer's aim is to revive the tradition of Enlightenment sentimentalism as superior to Enlightenment rationalism, and to indicate how recent research in social psychology and social neuroscience supports reflective sentimentalism.  He uses the term "reflective sentimentalism" to indicate that sentimentalists are not arguing for enslaving reason to emotion, because they are actually arguing for autonomy as the activity of the whole human mind, in which the mind can reflect rationally on itself and thus refine its emotional responses to the world by judging those responses as reasonable or unreasonable.  We can reflect on whether our moral sentiments are contradictory or consistent, whether they rest on true or false judgments, and whether they promote or impede our happiness. 

I would identify the Enlightenment rationalists as following in the Platonic tradition and the Enlightenment sentimentalists as following in the Aristotelian tradition.  Frazer's argument, then, can be seen as furthering that Aristotelian tradition.

What Frazer says in defense of Smith's reflective liberal sentimentalism coincides what I have said in defense of Aristotelian and Darwinian liberalism.  As the naturally social animals that we are, we have evolved propensities to care about our fellow human beings, a care that is expressed as sympathy or empathy, or what Aristotle would call "friendship" (philia).  Through sympathy, we judge others and judge ourselves as we appear in the eyes of others, judgments that are expressed as moral sentiments of approbation or disapprobation.  When we see people suffering unfair injuries, we sympathize with their suffering and share their resentment against those who have injured them, because we have imaginatively projected ourselves into their situations.  That resentment against injustice is the natural ground of rights, because we derive rights from wrongs: human beings have the right not to be injured in ways that would elicit our moral resentment. 

Darwinian evolutionary biology can explain the evolution of these moral and intellectual capacities.  Darwinian psychology and neuroscience can explain the proximate causes of our judgments in our neurophysiological constitution.  This then provides scientific confirmation of reflective sentimentalism.

This reflective sentimentalism is liberal because it recognizes the natural separateness of individuals and the moral claims that individuals make.  As members of the same human species, we share those general propensities or generic natural desires that constitute our human nature.  But we also are unique in our identities as individuals with personal temperaments and social histories.  For the harmony of society, there must be some shared experiences between individuals based on sympathy.  But sympathy can never be perfect in the sense of being a complete unity of spectator and actor, because this would deny the separate identity of the two individuals.  "Though they will never be unisons," Smith observed, "they may be concords, and this is all that is wanted or required" (TMS, I.i.4.8).

One weakness in Frazer's account of Smith is his silence about Smith's theological teleology.  Smith repeatedly speaks of God as the intelligent designer of nature or "Author of Nature" who judges human beings.  Although morality arises as an unintended order from the interactions of individuals, the emergence of this order is made possible by God's creation of cosmic nature and human nature in such a way as to foster human happiness.  Consequently, the general rules of morality are "justly regarded as the Laws of the Deity" (TMS, III.v).

Frazer recognizes that the sentimentalism of Shaftesbury, Hutcheson, and Butler was grounded in such a theological teleology, in contrast to Hume, who developed a "free-standing" sentimentalism that did not depend on mysterious metaphysical or theological conceptions of the cosmos as intelligently designed for moral purposes.  On this point, Smith seems closer to Shaftesbury, Hutcheson, and Butler than to Hume.  Later, Herder continued that tradition of theological sentimentalism.

This theological sentimentalism might seem to conflict with Frazer's argument for a liberal sentimentalism, assuming that liberalism requires a purely secular grounding for moral and political order.  But Frazer rightly argues that a liberal sentimentalism that is open to moral pluralism must be open to those religious believers who see natural right as rooted in divine right, while also being open to secularists who see natural right as rooted in propensities of human nature that have no divine sanction.

Darwin allows for such openness to religious belief by recognizing that religion can evolve as an important support for the moral sentiments, but even so, those who are atheists or skeptics (like Darwin himself) can follow those moral sentiments as purely natural products of human evolution.

Consequently, a Darwinian liberal sentimentalism can find support among religious believers as well as unbelievers.  This sustains a liberal policy of religious liberty and toleration, which extends toleration to atheists.

Smith's liberal sentimentalism allows for the evolutionary emergence of morals and markets as unintended orders.  But this unintended social evolution is made possible by the intended order of cosmic nature and human nature as created by God as the intelligent designer of everything.  One might infer from this that belief in God as the intelligent designer is the indispensible support for human social order, which is the idea behind the tradition of the confessional state--the idea that every political regime depends on a political theology that is enforced coercively on all individuals in the regime.  But while Smith recognizes the importance of religious instruction for the people of each society, he argues against any governmental establishment of religion and in favor of tolerating a multiplicity of religious sects competing freely for adherents.

By showing how all living species--including the human species--could have evolved naturally, without any need for special creation by God, Darwin extended the idea of unintended order to embrace the whole history of life, and thus he allowed for moral order to be understood as free-standing, without any necessary support from a theology of intelligent design, which then made it safe for governments to tolerate atheists without fear that atheism would subvert the moral order of society.

Thursday, July 12, 2012

A Confucian Constitution for China?

Jiang Qing and Daniel A. Bell have an article in The New York Times arguing for "A Confucian Constitution for China." 

In the summer and fall of 2010, I wrote a long series of posts on Confucianism, Darwinism, and liberalism, which included an assessment of Daniel Bell's argument for a "left Confucianism" that would support a new Confucian constitution for China.  I pointed out some serious contradictions in Bell's proposals.  And I see nothing in this new statement that resolves those contradictions.

On the one hand, Bell argues that Marxist socialism has lost all legitimacy in China.  On the other hand, he defends political Confucianism as the fulfilment of Marxist socialism.

On the one hand, Bell argues that Confucian ethics needs to be enforced by governmental coercion.  On the other hand, he recognizes that the history of Maoist attempts to coercively enforce moral transformation shows that such coercion is destructive.

In the fall of 2010, I lectured at Peking University in Beijing on "The Dao of Confucianism and Darwinism."  I argued that China needs a new Confucianism supported by Darwinian liberalism to replace Marxist socialism.  Some scholars of Confucianism have noted a liberal tradition in Confucianism, a tradition of suspicion of coercive power as corrupting and of reliance on moral persuasion arising through the natural and voluntary associations of society.  I have argued for cultivating this liberal tradition of Confucianism.

By contrast, Bell has rejected liberal Confucianism for two reasons.  First, he claims that liberalism is a Western idea, and therefore it's not suitable for China.  Second, he claims that while Confucianism is a comprehensive way of life, liberalism is "mainly a political philosophy rather than an all-embracing ethical philosophy."

On the first point, rejecting liberalism as a Western idea is strange, because Bell is arguing for a fusion of Confucianism with Marxist socialism, which is a very Western idea.

On the second point, saying that liberalism cannot support "an all-embracing ethical philosophy" is false.  Adam Smith was an important liberal thinker, and his Theory of Moral Sentiments sets forth "an all-embracing ethical philosophy."  But Smith explains how moral order arises through the natural and voluntary associations of social life that shape moral character by cultivating the moral sentiments.  Darwin then explained how this view of morality could be rooted in an evolved moral sense.  Thus, liberals can see the importance of a moral tradition like Confucianism that arises from moral persuasion in civil society rather than legal coercion by government.

Moreover, the natural morality cultivated by liberalism provides a shared moral framework that does not depend upon belief in any transcendent sacred authority that would provoke religious disputes. 

Bell is not clear about this point.  In some of his previous writing, Bell has rejected Jiang's proposal for making Confucianism a state religion with "sacred sources from Heaven."  Bell has argued--rightly, I think--that Confucius was evasive or silent about metaphysical or supernatural conceptions of "Heaven" or the afterlife, because his primary concern was for human life on earth.  This supports my claim that Confucianism shares with Darwinism a "humanistic" conception of moral order as arising not from cosmic sources--God, Nature, or Reason--but from human sources--human nature, human tradition, and human judgments.

But now, in this new article in the Times, Bell endorses Jiang's appeal to the "sacred legitimacy" that would be represented in a "House of Exemplary Persons."  This clearly contradicts Bell's earlier position.

Furthermore, this new article does not show any of Bell's earlier scepticism about Jiang's naive utopianism in assuming that the best government is the rule by the wise intellectuals over the irrational masses.  Previously, Bell has said that Jiang "underestimates the political intelligence of ordinary people and overestimates that of intellectuals."  But now Bell seems to agree with Jiang that we can trust the wise few to rule with knowledge and virtue over the unwise many.  By contrast, liberalism assumes that all political rulers will be imperfect in their knowledge and virtue, and that power tends to corrupt even the wisest rulers.  One would think that this liberal assumption has been confirmed by the pervasive corruption among China's political rulers.  And yet, Jiang and Bell ignore all this in proposing a new Chinese Constitution in which "a House of Exemplary Persons that represents sacred legitimacy" has an exclusive veto over the other two Houses of government.

Jiang and Bell do concede the need for the other two Houses to have some check on the power of the House of Exemplary Persons.  But it's not clear how this would work.  And if the House of Exemplary Persons really would have "sacred legitimacy," why would it need to be checked?

Elaboration of these points can be found in some previous posts, particularly here, here.. here., here, and here.

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Joseph Cropsey, 1920-2012

Joseph Cropsey died on July 1 at the age of 92 in Rockville, Maryland.

He was my major professor and the supervisor of my dissertation when I was a graduate student in the Department of Political Science at the University of Chicago, 1971-1978.

Through his childhood friend, Harry Jaffa, he learned about Leo Strauss when Strauss was teaching at the New School for Social Research in New York City.  Cropsey was a Ph.D. student in economics at Columbia University, writing a dissertation on Adam Smith.  Eventually, he jointed Strauss at the University of Chicago.

His classes in the history of political philosophy were always full, with as many as 60-70 students in each class.  Part of the attraction of his classes was his elegant style of lecturing.  I have never heard anyone who could lecture as he did without notes for one and a half hours, speaking in complete sentences and paragraphs.  A typescript of a lecture could be a well-written essay.

My preference was for a more engaged, discussion-style class.  I would often try to ask questions to initiate an interchange, and it was made clear that this was not what he wanted.  Eventually, I learned to enjoy what I could from his lecturing.

We often disagreed.  In fact, he fundamentally disagreed with the argument of my dissertation on Aristotle's Rhetoric, because like many Straussians, he had no interest in the possibility that rhetoric could be a form of genuine reasoning, which was my argument.  Nevertheless, he allowed me to develop my reasoning, and approved my dissertation despite my disagreement with him.  I respected this, and it has been the model for me in supervising dissertations.

He was a remarkable thinker.  I have written a blog post on his book Plato's World and another post on his reading of Adam Smith.

He will be missed.

William Kristol has written an obituary in The Weekly Standard for Cropsey, Anna Schwartz, and Yitzhak Shamir, who all died in the last two weeks.

Friday, July 06, 2012

The Weakness of Strong Reciprocity (Part 3)

If the argument for strong reciprocity is to succeed, Bowles and Gintis must persuade us that there is evidence for a strong propensity for human beings to cooperate with others and to punish cheaters, even when this cooperation and this punishment are costly, and the costs cannot be recouped through reciprocation. 

One likely way in which there could be some payback through reciprocation would be from the benefits of having a good reputation for being a cooperator and a moralistic punisher.  This is what theorists of "reciprocal altruism" call "indirect reciprocity."  To deny this possibility, Bowles and Gintis must persuade us that what looks like evidence for strong reciprocity cannot be explained as social conduct motivated by cues suggesting that this conduct will build or maintain a good reputation for the actor.  These reputational cues could be unconscious, and they could be deceptive, in the sense that the actor could be motivated by an unconscious concern for reputation even though there is little or no chance that the conduct will really enhance the good reputation of the actor.  Human beings often act properly because they want to look good in the eyes of others, and they have some vague feeling that someone might see them.  (Notice how this comes up in Plato's Republic, in the discussion of whether just conduct depends on the fear of being punished, even if only through a bad reputation, and of whether people would be just if they had the "ring of Gyges" that would make them invisible.)

Consider this famous natural experiment to test for this kind of behavior.  The Division of Psychology at the University of Newcastle in England has a system by which its members pay for their tea, coffee, and milk by putting money in an "honesty box."  Above the box, there is a posted notice indicating the prices for the drinks, and people are enjoined to voluntarily pay their fair share into the box.  When people are alone in the room with the drinks, their decision to pay is anonymous. 

The experiment was to test the effect of images put above the posted notice.  For alternating weeks, the image would be either a picture of flowers or a picture of a pair of human eyes.  There was a careful record of the amount paid in proportion to the amount of drinks.  It was found that during the weeks when the image of a pair of eyes was posted, the money put into the honesty box was much higher than during the weeks when there was just an image of flowers.

One explanation for such generosity in which people pay their fair share of a public good even when their fairness is anonymous is that they are strong reciprocators, who are moved by other-regarding preferences shaped by a history of group selection.  That's the argument of Bowles and Gintis.  But in this experiment, the researchers concluded that this was not plausible:
A simpler explanation is simply that humans are strongly attuned to cues that generally indicate reputational consequences of behavior . . . .  If even very weak, subconscious cues, such as the photocopied eyes used in this experiment, can strongly enhance cooperation, it is quite possible that the cooperativeness observed in other studies results from the presence in the experimental environment of subtle cues evoking the psychology of being observed.  The power of these subconscious cues may be sufficient to override the explicit instructions of the experimenter to the effect that behaviour is anonymous.  If this interpretation is correct, then the self-interested motive of reputation maintenance may be sufficient to explain cooperation in the absence of direct return. (413)
This experiment might seem trivial.  But the researchers rightly indicate that using images of eyes to motivate good behavior points to some deep evolutionary and neurophysiological grounds of human social conduct.  Like some other primates, human beings have evolved to be visual animals whose social norms are largely enforced through watching and being watched.  The human perceptual system has special neural circuitry to perceive and respond to faces, eyes, and social gazes (Emery, 2000; Itier and Batty, 2009).  As social animals who rely on visual signals of social praise and blame, we need to know when we are being watched, and we need to know what those eyes of the spectators are telling us, because we need to look good.  (One major reason for autistic people being socially awkward is that disorders in their neural circuitry make it hard for them to interpret and respond to social signalling through faces and eyes: they cannot read the minds of those around them because they cannot read their eyes.) The human concern for looking good is a major theme of Adam Smith's Theory of Moral Sentiments and of his appeal to the "impartial spectator" as our standard of judgment.

This experiment in Newcastle might explain what happened when Vernon Smith conducted his double blind Dictator Game experiments, so that it was absolutely impossible for the experimenters to know what decisions the players made:  by removing even the subconscious cues that the players were being watched--that their reputations were being judged by the experimenters--players were free to be selfish, and over 64% of the dictators kept all the money for themselves.

In A Cooperative Species, Bowles and Gintis reject this interpretation.  They quote from the last sentence of the report on the Newcastle research: "the self-interested motive of reputation maintenance may be sufficient to explain cooperation in the absence of direct return." 

To this, they respond:
The conclusion is a non-sequitur.  It is incorrect to infer from the fact that people act more generously when there appear to be witnesses that people exhibit other-regarding preferences only when they believe, consciously or otherwise, that they are being observed.  The above evidence is completely consistent with our view that individuals have moral values that they uphold for their own sake, although their self-assessment as moral beings is highly sensitive to how they fare in the eyes of others.  The idea goes back to Adam Smith. (44)
They then quote this passage from Smith's Theory of Moral Sentiments, although they mistakenly omit the second sentence:
Nature, when she formed man for society, endowed him with an original desire to please, and an original aversion to offend his brethren. She taught him to feel pleasure in their favourable, and pain in their unfavourable regard. She rendered their approbation most flattering and more agreeable to him for its own sake; and their disapprobation most mortifying and most offensive (III.2.6, italics added). 
Bowles and Gintis then explain this by citing the twentieth-century sociologist Charles Horton Cooley who coined the term "looking-glass self," which means that "we strive to please others not only for reputation (material reward in either present or future), but also because our self-esteem depends on others' evaluation of us."   Actually, they could have noted that Smith himself uses the phrase "moral looking-glass" (TMS, III.1.5).

They write:
We internalize norms that provide for us moral and prosocial preferences, and our self-esteem depends on meeting moral and prosocial expectations.  While some individuals are capable of maintaining high self-esteem from personal self-assessment, most individuals are acutely dependent upon the positive evaluation of their behavior by others.  The looking-glass self is thus an amalgam of personal self-assessment and the assessment of others (45).
The point here seems to be, according to Bowles and Gintis, that while "the self-interested motive of reputation maintenance" is the partial explanation for why people contribute generously to public goods, it is not "sufficient," because some people, even if only a few, are generous because they think it's the right thing to do, regardless of whether this contributes to their good reputation.  Most people depend upon how they are judged by others for their self-esteem, and they're the ones who would be influenced by subconscious neural cues of being watched.  But a few people can maintain their moral self-esteem from their own self-assessment, and thus they do not depend completely on the opinions of others, although they would prefer to be well regarded by others.

Although Adam Smith stresses the importance of social praise and blame in shaping our moral conduct, he also seems to agree with Bowles and Gintis that "the self-interested motive of reputation maintenance" cannot explain the conduct of those few people who love virtue for its own sake.  In The Theory of Moral Sentiments, this is particularly clear in the section on distinguishing the love of praise from the love of praiseworthiness (III.2) and in the section on "licentious systems" like that of Mandeville (VII.2.4).  Although most human beings need the reward of praise and honor for their good conduct, a few can maintain their self-esteem even when their virtue is not recognized.  "Though a wise man feels little pleasure from praise where he knows there is no praise-worthiness, he often feels the highest in doing what he knows to be praise-worthy, though he knows equally well that no praise is ever to be bestowed upon it" (III.2.7).  Similarly, "a man of real magnanimity" can act "solely from a regard to what is right and fit to be done, from a regard to what is the proper object of esteem and approbation, though these sentiments should never be bestowed upon him."  And yet this is rare: "It seldom happens, however, that human nature arrives at this degree of firmness" (VII.2.4.10).

Smith's "wise man" and his "man of real magnanimity" seem to manifest what Bowles and Gintis identify as strong reciprocity--doing what is right even when it is personally costly, and when there is no prospect of being personally rewarded by others.  But it also seems that such conduct is weak in the sense that it's rare, because only a few people will show such conduct.

Smith disagrees fundamentally, however, with Bowles and Gintis, because while they assume a dichotomy between self-interest and altruism or between self-regarding and other-regarding conduct, Smith rightly rejects the idea that virtue must be selfless or self-denying.  Bowles and Gintis separate "the Homo economicus of the Adam Smith of The Wealth of Nations" from the "virtuous citizens of the Adam Smith of The Theory of Moral Sentiments" (200).  (This is the famous "Adam Smith problem.")  But Smith himself does not see such a strict dichotomy.  There is a sense in which all virtue is rooted in self-love, because virtue is self-perfection or excellence.  The moral and intellectual virtues are the conditions for our happiness or flourishing.  And some of those virtues are concerned with the prudent pursuit of our material interests.  The pursuit of wealth can be virtuous (TMS, I.1.1.1, II.2.2.1, III.5.8, IV.1.10, VI.1, VI.2.1, VII.2.3.16, VII.2.4.8, VII.3.1.4).

Smith's account of morality as rooted in self-love has been confirmed by recent research on the evolution of mammalian sociality and the neural basis of social attachment.  In mammalian evolution, the neural circuitry for physical pain was appropriated for registering social pain in animals adapted for social attachment. Mammals must care for the survival and well-being not only of themselves but of others to whom they are attached. Extending the neural mechanisms originally evolved for individual self-preservation to include the welfare of offspring and social partners secures mammalian social order. The uniquely human evolution of the neocortex elaborates this mammalian development to sustain human love and concern for others.  Perhaps Bowles and Gintis are pointing to this when they write about the social emotions as "social analogues to pain" (186-94).

I have elaborated some of these points in some previous posts here, here, here, and here.


Bateson, Melissa, Daniel Nettle, and Gilbert Roberts (2006). "Cues of Being Watched Enhance Cooperation in a Real-World Setting."  Biology Letters 2:412-414.

Emery, N. J. (2000).  "The Eyes Have It: The Neuroethology, Function, and Evolution of Social Gaze."  Neuroscience and Biobehavioral Reviews 24: 581-604.

Itier, Roxanne J., and Magali Batty (2009).  "Neural Bases of Eye and Gaze Processing: The Core of Social Cognition."  Neuroscience and Biobehavioral Reviews 33: 843-863.

Tuesday, July 03, 2012

The Weakness of Strong Reciprocity (Part 2)

In my previous post, I indicated that one weakness in the arguments made by Bowles and Gintis for strong reciprocity was manifest in the experimental research of Vernon Smith and his colleagues: putting the Ultimatum Game into a context of property rights and providing absolute anonymity for dictators in the Dictator Game drastically reduce the behavior that could be interpreted as strong reciprocity.

The variability in the play of these games due to the social context points to a second weakness--it's never clear whether these artificially contrived games are revealing anything about the real world of everyday social interaction, and therefore it's never clear whether these games are providing evidence for strong reciprocity.

When researchers first began conducting behavioral game experiments, they designed the experiments so that the players would be influenced only by monetary calculations.  But now it seems that this is almost never the case, because the behavior of the players is influenced by at least five other factors, which have been surveyed in an article by Steven Levitt and John List (2007), who argue that this casts doubt on the validity of these experiments.  First, the games are often designed to elicit moral or other-regarding behavior in ways that might not often arise in the economic and social interactions of real life.  Second, the players typically feel themselves to be under the scrutiny of the experimenters in ways that would not be true in everyday life.  Third, those individuals who are recruited to participate in these experiments might not be typical of the human population: most of them are undergraduate students in the United States.  Fourth, the contexts in which the games are framed can influence behavior:  for example, as indicated earlier, calling an Ultimate Game an "exchange" game influences how the players behave.  Moreover, the social context that subjects bring into the game from their social experience can differ from the context that the experimenter is trying to create in the lab.  Finally, the level of the monetary stakes involved in a game can determine whether monetary gain becomes an overriding motive.

Bowles and Gintis summarize the article by Levitt and List in one paragraph (41).  Oddly, they fail to mention the last point--the influence of the monetary stakes. 

As one example of how the scrutiny of the experimenters influences behavior, Levitt and List note that in one experiment, subjects who had never contributed to a charity in real life contributed to the charity in a dictator game.  Bowles and Gintis admit that this shows "that one can never extrapolate directly from the laboratory to behavior in natural settings" (42).

Bowles and Gintis assume that when subjects are playing a one-shot game in the laboratory, they won't be concerned with building or maintaining a good reputation so that other people might cooperate with them in the future.  This is important because actions influenced by a concern for one's reputation cannot show strong reciprocity, for which there can be no expectation of future reciprocation.  But it is often clear that subjects are playing the games in the lab in the context of their past experiences with social interactions in which one's reputation is important.  The cross-cultural experimental research of Henrich et al. (2004) show that subjects with different cultural experiences play the same games differently because they are acting in the context of their cultural life outside the experimental game.  It seems likely, therefore, that even when subjects are told by experimenters that they are playing a one-shot, anonymous game in which they have no chance to build or maintain a reputation, the subjects might still be influenced by psychic propensities rooted in their concern for reputation.

Bowles and Gintis argue that this is unlikely, because "humans are perfectly capable of distinguishing between situations in which reputation building and retaliation against free-riding are possible and situations in which they are not" (94).  Similarly, in an earlier essay, they declare: "We do not think that subjects are unaware of the one-shot setting, or unable to leave their real-world experiences with repeated interactions at the laboratory door.  Indeed, evidence is overwhelming that humans readily distinguish between repeated and nonrepeated interactions and adapt their behavior accordingly" (2003, 432).

To this, Robert Trivers reponds:

Surely, awareness is irrelevant.  You can  be aware that you are in a movie theatre watching a perfectly harmless horror film and still be scared to death.  As for leaving real-world experiences at the laboratory door, I know of no species, humans included, that leaves any part of its biology at the laboratory door; not prior experiences, nor natural proclivities, nor ongoing physiology, nor arms and legs, nor whatever.  This is the whole point of experimental work.  You bring living creatures into the lab (ideally, whole) to explore causal factors underlying their biology, the mechanisms in action.  You do not imagine that you have thereby solved the problem of evolutionary origin; that is, that you can shortcut the problem of evolutionary function by simply assuming that the organism's actions in the lab represent evolved adaptations to the lab. (2006, 79)

Trivers argues that we respond to one-shot encounters as if they were part of an on-going chain of social interactions.  So if someone in an Ultimatum Game makes us an unfair offer, we get angry with them and reject the offer, because both our evolutionary history and our individual history have shaped us to maintain a reputation for being indignant when we're treated unfairly.

If Trivers is right, then we should expect to find ethnographic evidence that in those foraging societies most like those of our distant evolutionary ancestors, people show a sense of justice rooted concerns for kin and for reciprocity (both direct and indirect).  If Bowles and Gintis are right, then we should expect to find that people in small-scale societies engage in the costly punishment that identifies strong reciprocity--the punishment of those who violate social norms even when that punishment is personally costly to the punisher in ways for which there can be no payback for the punisher.

The third weakness in the argument of Bowles and Gintis for strong reciprocity is that there is very little, if any, clear ethnographic evidence collected by anthropologists in the field that shows such costly punishment.  Recently, Francesco Guala has surveyed the relevant research in an article in Behavioral and Brain Sciences (2012), and he has concluded: "there is no evidence that cooperation in the small egalitarian societies studied by anthropologists is enforced by means of costly punishment" (1).  Of course, as Guala indicates, there is plenty of evidence that small egalitarian societies punish behavior that violates their customary norms.  But this punishment is done collectively so that the cost is distributed across many individuals, and therefore no single individual bears an absolute cost that is unlikely to be recouped somehow in the future.

In their commentary on Guala's article, Gintis and Fehr declare: "anthropologists have confirmed that strong reciprocity is indeed routinely harnessed in the support of cooperation in small-scale societies" (2012, 28).  But as Guala indicates in his response, none of the studies they cite provide field research that clearly shows costly punishment.  They cite the work of Polly Wiessner and Christopher Boehm.  But in their commentaries on Guala's article, neither Wiessner nor Boehm clearly support strong reciprocity with ethnographic studies.  Wiessner says that "experimental and ethnographic evidence do not concur," and "whether positive and negative reciprocity are costly and thus truly 'strong' is difficult to measure in the field" (2012, 44).  She stresses how small-scale societies use institutional practices to minimize the costs of maintaining cooperation for single individuals.  Boehm concludes: "Hunter-gatherer punishment involves costs and benefits to individuals and groups, but the costs do not necessarily fit with the assumptions make in models that consider punishment to be altruistic" (2012, 19).

So, again, I conclude that the evidence suggests that strong reciprocity is weak--that only a few people will act as strong reciprocators, and in most cases, even they will do this only as long as the costs for them are very low.  Actually, when Bowles and Gintis are challenged, they have to admit that to defend the reality of strong reciprocity they have to concede its weakness.

I'll continue this in another post.


Boehm, Christopher (2012). "Costs and Benefits in Hunter-Gatherer Punishment."  Behavioral and Brain Sciences 35: 19-20.

Bowles, Samuel, and Herbert Gintis (2003). "Origins of Human Cooperation."  In Peter Hammerstein, ed., Genetic and Cultural Evolution of Cooperation, 429-443.   Cambridge: MIT Press.

Gintis, Herbert, and Ernst Fehr (2012).  "The Social Structure of Cooperation and Punishment."  Behavioral and Brain Sciences 35: 28-29.

Guala, Francesco (2012).  "Reciprocity: Weak or Strong? What Punishment Experiments Do (and Do Not) Demonstrate."  Behavioral and Brain Sciences 35: 1-59.

Henrich, Joseph, et al., eds. (2004).  Foundations of Human Sociality: Economic Experiments and Ethnographic Evidence from Fifteen Small-Scale Societies.  New York: Oxford University Press.

Trivers, Robert (2006).  "Reciprocal Altruism: 30 Years Later."  In P. M. Kappeler and C. P. van Schaik, eds., Cooperation in Primates and Humans, 67-83.  Berlin: Springer-Verlag.

Wiessner, Polly (2012).  "Perspectives from Ethnography on Weak and Strong Reciprocity."  Behavioral and Brain Sciences 35:44-45

The Weakness of Strong Reciprocity

"How selfish soever man may be supposed, there are evidently some principles in his nature, which interest him in the fortune of others, and render their happiness necessary to him, though he derives nothing from it except the pleasure of seeing it."

That's the first sentence of Adam Smith's Theory of Moral Sentiments.  It's the first sentence of the first chapter, which is on "sympathy" as "our fellow-feeling with any passion whatever"--the fundamental mechanism for Smith's explanation of all human morality.  This first sentence announces Smith's opposition to those like Thomas Hobbes and Bernard Mandeville who apparently thought that human beings could be explained as purely selfish beings,  because Smith believes that human beings are not just selfish but also social animals.

In The Descent of Man, Darwin cites this chapter in his own account of sympathy as the natural ground for human sociality and the moral sense.  And so it seems that Darwinian social theory agrees with Smith that we need to recognize that human conduct is other-regarding as well as self-regarding in its motivations.

Samuel Bowles and Herbert Gintis quote this first sentence of Smith's book as the epigram for the first chapter of their recent book, A Cooperative Species.  In this book as well as other writings, Bowles and Gintis suggest that in criticizing the "self-interest axiom" of the Homo economicus model and affirming "strong reciprocity" as a powerful human motivation shaped by human evolution, they are following in the tradition of Smith and Darwin. 

And yet both Smith and Darwin indicate that human sociality can be largely explained as naturally rooted in kinship and reciprocity.  The filial affections for one's children and other relatives are extended to other members of one's community.  And we can do good to others with the expectation of receiving good in return.  The first corresponds to William Hamilton's "kin selection," the second to Robert Trivers' "reciprocal altruism."  The idea of strong reciprocity as defended by Bowles and Gintis goes beyond this, however, because strong reciprocity is a propensity to cooperate and share with others, even strangers, and to punish those who don't cooperate, even when cooperation and punishment are personally costly to the reciprocator.  Thus, strong reciprocity does not require either ties of kinship or expectations of future reciprocation.

Studying the arguments for strong reciprocity by Bowles and Gintis in A Cooperative Species, alongside the arguments of their critics, I am inclined to conclude that if strong reciprocity exists, it's weak in the sense that it's displayed by only a few individuals in special circumstances,   The problem in the book is that at critical points Bowles and Gintis pass over serious objections without adequately responding to them, and in some cases they don't even acknowledge the objections.  Here I will point to four examples of this.

My first example is their response to some of the experimental research with the Ultimatum Game and the Dictator Game.

In the Ultimatum Game, the experimenter allocates some amount of money (say $10) to one person--the "proposer"--who must offer some proportion of this money to another person--the "responder"--who is free to accept or reject the offer.  If the responder rejects the offer, neither person receives any money.  If the responder accepts the offer, then the money is divided according to the offer of the proposer.  If this is conducted as a one-shot, anonymous game, then the Homo economicus model of human beings as rational egoists would predict that the proposer would offer to share as little as possible--maybe $1--and the responder would accept, because $1 is better than nothing.  But actually, experimenters have reported that most proposers regularly offer between 40% ($4) and 50% ($5) of the money.  When proposers offer less than this, responders generally reject the offer.  This has been interpreted as indicating that people act not purely out of self-interest in maximizing their material gain but out of an other-regarding sense of fairness.  The crucial factor seems to be the willingness of the responder to bear some cost in punishing unfair offers, which is anticipated by the proposer. 

Near the beginning of their book, Bowles and Gintis present this as a refutation of the Homo economicus model and as evidence for strong reciprocity (19-20).  (I suspect that when Bowles and Gintis first formulated the idea of strong reciprocity in 1998, this was primarily an explanation for the experimental outcomes with the Ultimatum Game.)  But then, later in the book, they admit that experiments conducted by Vernon Smith and his colleagues show that strong reciprocity is considerably weakened when the Ultimatum Game is played in a social context more like real life.  Bowles and Gintis write:
Evidence that institutions serve as cues for appropriate behaviors comes from ultimate game experiments with U.S. subjects in which simply naming the game "The Exchange Game," or assigning the role of proposer to those who did well on a current affairs test, resulted in lower offers and a significant reduction in rejections of low offers (Hoffman et al. 1994b). If individuals cared only about their money payoffs, neither manipulation would have changed the game. The fact that significantly less strong reciprocity occurred in the exchange game and the current events test version suggests that social structure affects behavior in ways other than those captured by the money payoffs of the game, in this case by suggesting appropriate behavior (the exchange game) or identifying some individuals as "deserving" (the test manipulation). (34)
The common practice in behavioral game experiments in the Ultimatum Game had been for the experimenter to provide the initial endowment of money to someone randomly chosen as the proposer, who then must decide how to divide the money with the responder. 

Vernon Smith's insight was to realize that this is not what normally happens in real life.  Usually, money is initially perceived as someone's property.  To simulate this, Smith had the participants in the game take a test on current events, and whoever scored the best was chosen to act as the proposer with the initial endowment of $10.  This suggested that the proposer had "earned" the money as his property, and the responder knew this.  In some cases, Smith added another condition: he told the participants that they were engaged in an "exchange game."  In those games where the proposer had earned his money as his property, the proposer offered less than $5 to the responder, and the responder accepted the offer.  In those games where the proposer earned a property right and the game was called an "exchange," the proposer offered even less money to the responder, and the responder accepted, although some responders rejected offers of only $1.

From this, Smith concluded:  "both proposers and responders in ultimatum games take account of the conditions under which rights to act have been conveyed.  In particular, a person with a legitimate right believes he/she can use that right in a more self-regarding manner than when the right is ambiguous, ill defined, or illegitimate, and others (responders, in this case) agree with, or respect, those beliefs of the rights holder" (1998, 14).  So what Bowles and Gintis identify as strong reciprocity is very weak when people are dividing up money that is perceived as belonging to someone.

Oddly enough, Bowles and Gintis are completely silent about the other research reported in the article they cite by Smith and his colleagues.   The Ultimatum Game becomes a Dictator Game when the responder has no right to reject the offer.  This allows the proposer to be selfishly unfair in dividing the money without any fear of punishment by the responder.  But while a purely selfish dictator would be free to take all the money and share none of it, the typical outcome of the Dictator Game is that 60%-80% of the dictators give $1 or more, although dictators tend to give less than they would if they were proposers in an Ultimatum Game. 

Smith noticed, however, that while experimenters enforced anonymity among the players in the Dictator Game, so that dictators would not worry about their reputation, the players' decisions were being recorded by the experimenters, who then would know what the dictators had done.  Smith decided to conduct a series of Dictator Games with a double blind procedure so that the individual decisions of the dictators would be known to themselves but not to the other players or to the experimenters.  When the games were played this way, 64% of the dictators kept all the money for themselves, and 20% of them gave only $1.  From this, Smith concluded: "The appearance of other-regardingness comes from the self-regarding requirements of, and the need for, reciprocity in social exchange.  Take away all social context--no others can know--and we see the naked expression of purely self-regarding behavior" (1998, 16).

This research by Smith and his colleagues suggests that what Bowles and Gintis see as evidence for strong reciprocity is actually evidence of indirect reciprocity in which people are generous because they expect to earn a reputation for generosity that will benefit them in the future.  Under conditions of total anonymity, people tend to express their purely selfish motivations.  Nowhere in their book do Bowles and Gintis respond to this evidence.

But notice that even in the double blind Dictator Game, 16% of the dictators gave away more than $1.  Would Bowles and Gintis say that this shows that at least a small minority of people are strong reciprocators?  Surprisingly, Smith reports that in one of his double blind Dictator Games, one individual dictator gave away $9 and kept only $1 for himself!  Would Bowles and Gintis say that surely at least this one individual was a strong reciprocator?

Or should we wonder whether the benevolent dictator who gave away $9 was an undergraduate student who thought the whole game was a joke?  After all, $10 is such a small amount of money for most American college students that deciding how to divide it up between two individuals might not be a realistic test of stinginess or generosity.  This indicates the problem of whether these experimental games are really valid indicators of how people behave in everyday life.

I'll take up this and other issues in my next post.


Vernon Smith, "The Two Faces of Adam Smith," Southern Economic Journal, 65 (1) (1998): 1-19.

Vernon Smith, Bargaining and Market Behavior: Essays in Experimental Economics (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2000).