Social Preferences, Homo Economicus, and Zoon Politikon

Samuel Bowles and Herbert Gintis

in The Oxford Handbook of Contextual Political Analysis

Published in print March 2006 | ISBN: 9780199270439
Published online September 2009 | | DOI:

Series: Oxford Handbooks of Political Science

Social Preferences, Homo Economicus, and Zoon Politikon

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  • Politics
  • Political Economy
  • Political Behaviour



This article analyses the relevance of the concepts of Homo economicus, zoon politikon, and social preferences in political analysis. It explains that the acceptance of the rational choice model coincides with an increasing recognition in economics of the limitations of the behavioural assumptions sometimes summarized by the term Homo economicus. Though Homo economicus is not entailed by any axioms of the model, three assumptions embracing this behavioural model are commonly treated as integral to the approach. This article highlights the confirmation of the existence of process-regarding and other-regarding preferences introduced by the idea of zoon politikon. It also presents empirical evidence supporting strong reciprocity as a schema for explaining important forms of political behaviour.

Keywords: Homo economicus; zoon politikon; social preferences; political analysis; rational choice model; behavioural assumptions; process-regarding preferences; other-regarding preferences; reciprocity; political behaviour

Article.  6196 words. 

Subjects: Politics ; Political Economy ; Political Behaviour

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