Moral Sentiments and Material Interests

From Economic Learning and Social Evolution

Moral Sentiments and Material Interests

The Foundations of Cooperation in Economic Life

Edited by Herbert Gintis, Samuel Bowles, Robert Boyd and Ernst Fehr





Moral Sentiments and Material Interests presents an innovative synthesis of research in different disciplines to argue that cooperation stems not from the stereotypical selfish agent acting out of disguised self-interest but from the presence of "strong reciprocators" in a social group.

Presenting an overview of research in economics, anthropology, evolutionary and human biology, social psychology, and sociology, the book deals with both the theoretical foundations and the policy implications of this explanation for cooperation. Chapter authors in the remaining parts of the book discuss the behavioral ecology of cooperation in humans and nonhuman primates, modeling and testing strong reciprocity in economic scenarios, and reciprocity and social policy. The evidence for strong reciprocity in the book includes experiments using the famous Ultimatum Game (in which two players must agree on how to split a certain amount of money or they both get nothing).


Out of Print ISBN: 9780262072526 416 pp. | 6 in x 9 in 35 illus.


$35.00 X ISBN: 9780262572378 416 pp. | 6 in x 9 in 35 illus.


Herbert Gintis

Herbert Gintis is Emeritus Professor of Economics at the University of Massachusetts and External Faculty at the Santa Fe Insitute.

Samuel Bowles

Samuel Bowles is Research Professor and Director of the Behavioral Sciences Program at the Santa Fe Institute and Professor of Economics at the University of Siena.

Robert Boyd

Robert Boyd is Professor of Anthropology at University of California at Los Angeles.

Ernst Fehr

Ernst Fehr is Director of the Insitute for Empirical Research in Economics at the University of Zurich.


  • Amos Tversky's research on preferences and beliefs has had a shattering and yet highly constructive influence on the development of economics. The vague complaints of psychologists and dissident economists about the excessive rationality assumptions of standard economics, going back over a century, had little impact. It required the careful accumulation of evidence, the clear sense that Tversky did not misunderstand what economists were assuming, and above all his formulation of useful alternative hypotheses to change dissatisfaction into a revolutionary change in perspective.

    Kenneth J. Arrow

    Professor of Economics Emeritus, Stanford University, Nobel Laureate in Economic Sciences (1972)

  • This book presents social science at its interdisciplinary best: an exhilarating mix of game theory, evolutionary biology, experimental economics, cultural anthropology, primatology, and policy analysis. It will change our views of how biology and culture together determine social behavior.

    Daniel Kahneman

    Princeton University, Nobel Laureate in Economic Sciences

  • This outstanding book provides an extraordinary set of insights into the nature and effects of cooperation. Not only does it demolish the view, widespread in the social sciences, that people are selfish; it goes beyond demolition to delineate the uses and limits of cooperation in human behavior. One of its many virtues is that it extends the theoretical debate directly into the realm of law and policy, showing how an understanding of cooperation bears on employment practices, street crime, environmental protection, welfare policy, and even the behavior of taxpayers.

    Cass R. Sunstein

    Law School and Department of Political Science, University of Chicago

  • This is the wave of the future in social science research: the dissolution of disciplinary boundaries, a unified conceptual framework, and rapid feedback between theoretical and empirical inquiry.

    David Sloan Wilson

    Binghamton University, author of Darwin's Cathedral: Evolution, Religion, and the Nature of Society

  • This work synthesizes the elements of the burgeoning, transdiciplinary field of study on the evidence of cooperation in human behavior, economic and otherwise. The hypothesis of strong reciprocity—of willingness to both punish departures from norms, even at a cost, and to contribute, even in the absence of direct gain—is tested in the field and in experimental studies. The papers in this book, and the studies on which they are based, represent an important new direction for social research, one with important policy consequences.

    Kenneth J. Arrow

    Professor of Economics Emeritus, Stanford University, Nobel Laureate in Economic Sciences (1972)

  • Where once human economy was viewed abstractly, as a mere reflection of market forces, there is increasing interest in how it derives from natural human tendencies. We do not come into this world as rational profit-maximizers, but as bonded, group-living primates. This volume sets the stage for new economic thinking that takes this thoroughly social heritage into account. With its attention to moral implications, it is the perfect book for the post-Enron era.

    Frans de Waal

    author of Our Inner Ape