Journal of Bioeconomics

, Volume 20, Issue 1, pp 7–21 | Cite as

Adam Smith, scientist and evolutionist: modelling other-regarding behavior without social preferences

  • Vernon L. SmithEmail author


In this essay, I want to illustrate the power of Sentiments to bring order to contemporary experiments where the traditional game-theoretic models failed decisively to predict human action even under the conditions of anonymity. Sentiments is about sympathy, an undefined primitive human characteristic known and identified through the work it does in enabling the emergence of the human capacity for fellow feeling (in: Smith (ed) The theory of moral sentiments, Oxford, Oxford University Press, p. 10, 1759). Fellow feeling provides the experiential foundation for our rule-following conduct, and constitutes the evolutionary basis for human sociality. Similarly, gravity in Newtonian physics was a primitive concept known by the work it does in governing the orderly motion of all bodies in the observable universe, as it was known in Newton’s time. Both systems sought to explain and understand observations by means of postulated forces at work in nature, but insensible to human awareness.


Adam Smith Experimental economics Cultural evolution Economic psychology 


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media, LLC 2017

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Chapman UniversityOrangeUSA

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