- Paperback: 320 pages
- Publisher: W. W. Norton & Company (November 1, 1988)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 0393960226
- ISBN-13: 978-0393960228
- Product Dimensions: 5 x 0.9 x 7.3 inches
- Shipping Weight: 11.2 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
- Average Customer Review: 8 customer reviews
- Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #166,962 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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Passions Within Reason: The Strategic Role of the Emotions
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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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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. Experiments using behavioral game theory more than amply confirm the centrality of emotions in decision-making even in the company of strangers (see papers on prosocial emotions on my web site: [...]
A thornier question is: why can a purely selfish type (otherwise known as a sociopath) not simply mimic the behavior of a committed altruist when it suits his purposes, and not otherwise? If this were possible, and there were no other counteracting tendencies, sociopaths would surely drive out committed altruists. Here Frank is less convincing. He says simply that it is very hard to fake the emotions, just as it is difficult for a small bullfrog to fake his size by mimicking the deep-throated croaks of his larger bretheren. This is true, but some people do this very successfully. Why do they not prosper? Moreover, there is no obvious developmental constraint in humans opposing the evolution of excellent emotional cheats.
Perhaps the payoffs to faking commitment are not that high. Surely this would explain why it is "difficult to fake emotions": they payoff to doing is low or negative, so the capacity for faking has not evolved to a high level in humans. More recent research, using models of gene-culture coevolution, indicate that this may well be the case. See, for instance, Herbert Gintis, "The Hitchhiker's Guide to Altruism: Genes, Culture, and the Internalization of Norms", Journal of Theoretical Biology 220,4 (2003):407-418, and Robert Boyd, Herbert Gintis, Samuel Bowles and Peter J. Richerson, "Evolution of Altruistic Punishment", Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences 100,6 [mar] (2003):3531-3535.
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.
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.
Frank argues that emotions in general are essentially technologies designed to solve the commitment problem. Emotions convey to others that one is committed to certain perspectives or courses of action. The significance of this insight cannot be overstated. Those who are privy to evolutionary psychology and the evolutionary perspective will appreciate how this theory of emotions fits into the paradigm of selective pressures and adaptive behavior. This book can be read right along with Darwin's "The Expression of Emotions in Man and Animals."
Why is the commitment problem an important idea? One reason is that many philosophies, including Objectivism, treat emotions as the polar opposite of logic and rationality. The commitment problem underscores the logic behind emotions.
As an aside, Frank is the perfect explanation of why some economists are among the brightest social scientists. The economic perspective includes the idea that rationality is strategic and that in order to make the most efficient choice, often problems are encountered that require tradeoffs. So, economists are among the first to discover or elaborate on specific and pervasive problems that people and other organisms encounter.
Lastly, to argue that emotions are strategic is not to say that the strategy is conscious. As the emotional animals illustrate, the strategy of emotions can be carried out by instinct. Cases where the emotional strategy leads to sub-optimal results doesn't contradict the theory either. The proliferation of emotional animals illustrates this as well.
I challenge that anyone who studies the emotions is in the dark ages without understanding the ideas in this book. From my experience, many PhD trained social scientists and educators don't have a good grasp of this material.