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The Importance of Commitment for Morality: How Harry Frankfurt’s Concept of Care Contributes to Rational Choice Theory

Chapter
Part of the Library of Ethics and Applied Philosophy book series (LOET, volume 31)

Abstract

Using Rational Choice Theory to account for moral agency has always had some uncomfortable aspect to it. Economists’ attempts to include the moral dimension of behaviour either as a preference for moral behaviour or as an external constraint on self-interested choice, have been criticized for relying on tautologies or lacking a realistic picture of motivation. Homo Oeconomicus, even when conceptually enriched by all kinds of motivations, is ultimately still characterized as caring only for what lies in his interest. Amartya Sen has drawn the economists’ attention to a specific blind spot in rational choice theory (henceforth RCT), i.e. the idea of commitment. By starting from the premise that the human capacity to commit is a necessary precondition for moral behaviour, our aim in this paper is twofold: first, we argue that taking the idea of commitment seriously in economics requires an enriched concept of rationality. Second, we reject a Kantian interpretation of Sen’s concept of commitment and argue that Harry Frankfurt’s views about caring can be used to develop the concept of commitment in a direction that is compatible with Rational Choice Theory.

Keywords

Rational Choice Moral Agency Moral Behaviour Rational Choice Theory Practical Rationality 
These keywords were added by machine and not by the authors. This process is experimental and the keywords may be updated as the learning algorithm improves.

Notes

Acknowledgment

We would like to thank Malte Doehne, the audience at the conference ‘What makes us moral?’ (Amsterdam, June 2011), and an anonymous referee for their helpful comments and suggestions.

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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media Dordrecht 2013

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Center for the History of Political EconomyDuke UniversityDurhamUSA
  2. 2.Utrecht UniversityUtrechtThe Netherlands

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