Experimental Investigations of Social Preferences

James F. Woodward

in The Oxford Handbook of Philosophy of Economics

Published in print March 2009 | ISBN: 9780195189254
Published online September 2009 | e-ISBN: 9780199892105 | DOI:

Series: Oxford Handbooks in Philosophy

Experimental Investigations of Social Preferences

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This article surveys some of the philosophical issues raised by recent experimental work on so-called social preferences. More broadly, its focus is on experimental explorations of the conditions under which people behave co-operatively or in a prosocial way or, alternatively, fail to do so. These experiments raise a number of fascinating methodological and interpretive issues that are of central importance both to economics and to social and political philosophy. It is commonly claimed that the experiments demonstrate that (at least some) people not only have selfish preferences concerning their own material payoffs, but that they also have preferences concerning the well-being of others—that is, social preferences. Moreover, the contention is not just that some subjects have such social preferences, but that these can have large and systematic effects on behavior, both in the experiments under discussion and in real life contexts outside the laboratory.

Keywords: social preferences; economics; political philosophy; selfish preferences; material payoffs

Article.  16538 words. 

Subjects: Philosophy of Science ; Social and Political Philosophy

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