The Puzzle of Altruistic Punitiveness

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4 Responses

  1. Cathy says:

    I wonder if there’s not also a fourth possible explanation. Along the lines of explanation #3, in that the perceived value to be gained through retribution is not measured in money, it seems another rational reason is the perceived psychological gain that can come from taking these steps. This is like reason #3 except that there the derived non-monetary benefit will be distributed externally to others, whereas with this approach the perceived gains are internal. Things like reestablishing personal honor and esteem, healing the psychic wound the transgression caused (e.g., if it made you feel small then this will help you re-establish your self image), making yourself feel whole, etc.

  2. Vic says:

    For #3, cf. Charney vs. Sullivan & Cromwell. As Scott M. has pointed out, Charney hasn’t managed things well from the point of view of maximizing wealth or, arguably, personal utility. He could have settled things quietly for a handsome amount, I suspect. But his PR strategy suspects that’s not the point – he’s trying to make things better for others.

  3. I couldn’t agree more. One kind of social meaning that emerges from the theoretical work of Jean Hampton and some exciting empirical research being conducted by Kenworthy Bilz) relates to social status. I suspect that being made “whole” depends, in large part, on having official recognition that one was wronged and that the jerk is, well, a jerk. Notice, too, that on this account the distinction between selfishness and altruism disappears and the puzzle is solved. Which is what I meant to add (and will add now) at the end of the post.

  4. Frank says:

    I think Robert Frank’s What Price the Moral High Ground is a splendid synthesis of econ and evolutionary bio re these types of explanation.

    But for #3: isn’t this a version of “value-rationality” or in the Weberian typology of motivations for actions? there’s a little more explanation here:

    “Weber’s works started the antipositivistic revolution in social sciences, which stressed the difference between the social sciences and natural sciences, especially due to human social actions (which Weber differentiated into traditional, affectional, value-rational and instrumental.”

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Max_Weber

    I would think there’d be a good vein of work explicating the “value-rational” (or wertrational) as opposed to the instrumentally rational (or zweckrational).