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From Pleasure Machines to Moral Communities

An Evolutionary Economics without Homo Economicus

Geoffrey M. Hodgson

University of Chicago Press 2013

Also on Amazon

ISBN-13: 978-0-226-92271-3

ISBN-10: 0-226-92271-5

"Buy, borrow, but probably not steal this book! Geofrey M. Hodgson has written a first-rate book that demonstrates that morality is not only part of people's behavior, but also necessary for building a sound and humane economy and society. ... This book is possibly the single best summary of the importance of moral behavior in the economy and the inadequacy of basing economic theory solely on self-interested behavior ... this book needs to be read by all social as well as institutionalist economists and by policy makers, whether conservative or liberal."  Charles K. Wilber, Journal of Economic Isssues, December 2013.


"Both Darwin’s Conjecture and From Pleasure Machines to Moral Communities present a formidable challenge to the previous assumptions of CGE [computable general equilibrium] economics, which is currently under siege on a number of fronts. These books offer a plausible, coherent alternative based on perhaps the most powerful idea of the last two centuries: evolution by natural selection. ... Both books are well argued, timely, and well written, but they are not breezy. The topics are difficult and unsettled in biology (e.g., both the units and the levels of selection) and are even more controversial in the social sciences. Nevertheless, these volumes provide essential reading for anyone with an interest in the new and vibrant field of evolutionary social change."  John Gowdy in BioScience, 2013.

"all will be enriched by the ideas presented in this book".  J. Halteman, Choice, 2013.

"What makes Hodgson’s contribution unique is that it emphasizes the evolutionary nature of basic moral dispositions, presenting a sophisticated overview of recent research in evolutionary theory (as well as Charles Darwin’s original insights) to defend his call to replace homo economicus with a more ethically rich and intrinsically social model of economics behavior. ... With From Pleasure Machines to Moral Communities, Geoffrey Hodgson has made an invaluable contribution in enriching the economic modeling of human choice along the lines of cutting-edge evolutionary research." Mark D. White, Journal of Bioeconomics, 2013.

"This represents nothing less than outstanding scholarship, and the author demonstrates his profound familiarity with economic theory and the history of ideas. ... What is most valuable to me ... is the nuanced understanding of the evolution of moral motivation in economic and social life, which combimes biological and cultural transmission mechanisms."  Mari Sako, Socio-Economic Review, 2013.

"Hodgson is one of a number of leading heterodox economists who challenge the individualistic and utilitarian assumptions upon which mainstream economics continues to operate and seeks to place the discipline on a new footing. ... From Pleasure Machines to Moral Communities carries on this project, deepening both his critique of the economic mainstream and his articulation of a constructive alternative ... there is no better place to begin than this text, which in foregrounding the ethical and moral dimension of his thinking, offers a ready-made locus to begin a mutually-beneficial, critical dialogue." Simon Ravenscroft, Political Theology, 2014.


In line with recent research from the evolutionary and behavioural sciences, I argue that humans are generally morally motivated as well as self-interested. Morality is much more than convenience or convention. Given the nature of morality, moral motivation is essentially incompatible with utilitarianism, preference functions and much of mainstream economics. And my suggestion is more than simply adding a 'moral dimension' because we have to understand the evolutionary origins and foundations of moral sentiments. There are heavy doses of both Charles Darwin and Adam Smith in my arguments. I also believe that we cannot understand institutions properly unless we appreciate moral motivation.

In an attempt to operationise this approach in policy terms, I link in with work on basic needs, where needs (the desirable) are distinguised from wants (the desired). Perceptions of need are often spurs for motivation, as illustrated by workers in the health service, for example. Problems such as climate change cannot be resolved by focusing on self-interest without an appeal to moral values. I conclude by sketching a general evolutionary approach to policy.









Introduction: economic man and beyond


Meanings of methodological individualism


Rationality and cooperation


The nature of morality


The evolution of morality




Morality and cooperation in business


The economics of corruption and the corruption of economics


An evolutionary and institutional perspective on health economics


From utilitarianism to evolution in ecological economics


Toward an evolutionary and institutional approach to policy




Some comments on this book

“In his bold and thought-provoking new book, Geoffrey M. Hodgson exposes the deficiencies in ‘methodological individualism’ and shows how the neoclassical model of human nature is a crude caricature when it comes to dealing with the emergent dynamics of collective phenomena. In doing so, he provides much-needed clarification for an often muddy economic debate.” — Peter Corning, Institute for the Study of Complex Systems and the author of The Fair Society


“Modern mainline economics has shown itself to be woefully inept at illuminating the workings of modern economies. Among the economists who are trying to help the discipline to reform, Geoffrey M. Hodgson stands out as one of the most creative and sensible.” — Richard Nelson, Columbia University, USA


“Geoffrey M. Hodgson presents in this thought-provoking book a view of human sociality and moral concerns that is deeply rooted in an evolutionary worldview—and demonstrates the relevance of his vision. Highlighting morality issues in business enterprises, health services, the environmental crisis, and, not least, corruption as a scourge of human sociality, he offers deep new insights.” — Ulrich Witt, Max Plank Institute of Economics, Germany


An outstanding product of impressive scholarship that makes the reader painfully aware of how much we lost when economics became orthodox. It is hard to say what one must admire more: the author’s profound familiarity with economic theory—both traditional and modern—or his original application of evolutionary reasoning to economic and social life, without falling into the trap of biologistic reductionism.” — Wolfgang Streeck, Max Plank Institute for the Study of Societies, Germany