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Passions Within Reason: The Strategic Role of the Emotions Paperback – November 1, 1988

ISBN-13: 978-0393960228 ISBN-10: 0393960226

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 320 pages
  • Publisher: W. W. Norton & Company (November 1, 1988)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0393960226
  • ISBN-13: 978-0393960228
  • Product Dimensions: 0.5 x 0.1 x 0.7 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 11.2 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 5.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (7 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #193,860 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

From Library Journal

To be moral is to be a chump. Or is it? Frank (economics, Cornell) believes in the efficacy of the selfless act and provides a new interpretation of the empirical research on common behavioral signals implying commitment to social values. He thus offers a much-needed refinement of the influential Rational Expectations Hypothesis, a decision theory used chiefly by economists whereby materialist motives of self-interest are ascribed to the average person weighing costs and benefits for every action. After a wide-ranging and thorough discussion of the implications of collaborative and unopportunistic behavior, Frank presents his own "commitment model" for prudential cooperation, which emphasizes the strategic and clarifying role of the emotions in facilitating socially efficient interactions. William Abrams, Portland State Univ. Lib., Ore.
Copyright 1988 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.


... offers a much-needed refinement of the influential Rational Expectations Hypothesis. -- William Abrams, Library Journal

Frank wants us to be more altruistic but he also is intent on convincing his fellow social scientists that embellishing self-interest theory with systematic consideration of the role of the emotions will permit explanation and prediction of more of human behavior . . . . One can find fault with this book: Frank demonstrates the importance of 'emotions' but never either defines them or even presents us with a complete list. Nor do we know whether he believes we choose or are pawns of our sentiments. Still, this is an important work. Frank's intellectually fruitful and socially hopeful central argument prevails. -- John Brandl, Commonweal

Through myriad hypothetical examples, factual accounts and case studies, and theoretical models, Frank explores the seams between the behavioral sciences and strikes at their central assumptions and methodologies . . . . Annotated coverage of leading research and researchers coupled with ample notes and references, offer solid bibliographical aids. -- A.R. Sanderson, Choice

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57 of 59 people found the following review helpful By Herbert Gintis on April 11, 2003
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
Passions within Reason is a remarkably prescient and insightful book, drawing upon behavioral research of the decade leading to its publication (1988). It is also a rather subtle book. Even though I used in in a college course I taught in 1989, I do not believe I really understood it until I reread it very recently.
Frank asks: why to people help others, and retaliate against others who harm them, even when they can expect no future personal, material gain from so doing? His answer is that there are emotional rewards to helping those who deserve our aid and hurting others who deserve our ire. Our behavior towards others is regulated by the passions: empathy, spite, shame, remorse, guilt, compassion, and the other social emotions.
He then asks: why are those who behave in this emotional way not displaced (e.g., by having more offspring, or by acquiring more earthly possessions) by others who are purely selfish, and who help and hurt only when a dispassionate calculation indicates that it is in their material interest to do so? He answers this by noting that our emotions "precommit" us to keeping our promises and carrying out our threats, so that we gain in the long run by not being able (or willing) to make the dispassionate calculation. We gain because others will trust our promises and respect our threats. Frank calls the the "commitment model."
This idea that it is "rational" to be "emotional" is, of course, a commonplace today, and has been popularized by neuroscientist Alberto Damasio's fine book, Descartes' Error, and more recently, philosopher Martha Nussbaum's UPheavals of Thought.
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25 of 25 people found the following review helpful By Donald J. Boudreaux on June 25, 2000
Format: Paperback
This is Robert Frank's best book. As is true of everything he writes, Frank's style here is clear and engaging.
He aims to show that human emotions are created by natural selection to increase the individual's chances of survival. What appear to be a person's irrational reactions and inclinations often promote mutually beneficial trade and, thus, promote that person's long-run welfare. The explanation of how emotions achieve this remarkably beneficial outcome is the core of this fine book.
Of all the many serious books that I've read over the years, this one is surely among the most fun! It's fantastic reading.
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16 of 19 people found the following review helpful By Amazon Customer on April 1, 2005
Format: Paperback
The sheer volume of literature devoted to understanding behavior in humans and animals underscores how tricky understanding behavior is. A fraction of this literature, including this book, devotes particular attention to the problems that humans and animals encounter within social and natural environments. With a grasp of the important problems people encounter, a new perspective arises that identifies behavior as stragegic, attempted and on average efficient solutions to specific problems.

But these problems though hinted at here and there are rarely understood well by even the elite of the academic world let alone found within the common knowledge. Arguably among the more important problems that shape behavior are the freerider problem, the prisoner's dilemma, the problem of mutually offsetting investments, the problem of uncertainty, and the commitment problem. Robert Frank is perhaps the commitment problem's best spokesperson.

Often a person or an animal must convince a mate, an rival, or a predator that one is committed to taking a course of action that will require a substantial investment and perhaps substantial risk. If the commitment has convincing force, often the investment and risk will not be necessary. So the best course of action in a situation can seem highly counterintuitive. Behavior that might seem irrational or crazy can actually be the most efficient resolution to a competitive or cooperative circumstance. The commitment problem arises because in order to take advantage of these efficiencies, one must convince others that one is not bluffing and is actually fully committed. Robert Frank explores these situations including the cooperative enterprise of marriage and other social relationships. The explanatory power is impressive.
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11 of 14 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on December 27, 1997
Format: Paperback
Why are some people honest, even when nobody is looking? Why do we indignantly refuse an unfair offer, even if we could gain from accepting? If you're curious, read the book. It's written by an economist, but it's about psychology and ecology as much as economics. It's a wonderful book that deserves to be more widely known (it has a nice bibliography too). Moderately easy reading.
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