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Edited by Luigino Bruni and Stefano Zamagni
Chapter 12: Egotism: making sense of social preferences
The term ‘egotism’ or ‘egoism’ is common in the philosophical literature, where the main issues are whether it is a descriptive or a normative position, i.e., how it is related to actual decision making, and how it is related to morality (e.g., Gauthier, 1970). This issue does not arise in the standard economics literature. The economics literature, insofar as it is based on the weak axiom of revealed preferences, regards all actions as egotistical. This is the case because actions are aimed, by definition, to advance the objective function of the self or the actor’s ego. So, the term ‘egotism’ is no different from ‘self-interest’ – i.e., it would be redundant to employ it in standard economics. Further, the philosophical and psychological literature defines egotism as ego-centricism, narcissism, or self-aggrandizement. The egotistical agents give excessive importance to their own ego – which may include demanding others to respect and admire them. Actually, Adam Smith reserved his harshest words when he discussed self-aggrandizement—which he regarded as stemming from a weakness in one’s character (Khalil, 1996). Again, the economics literature, insofar as it focuses on rational choice, is blindfolded with regard to the issue of self-aggrandizement or the demand for what can be called maligned or distorted ‘symbolic utility’ (see Khalil, 2000). Given the focus on analyzing egotism in relation to rational choice, this chapter does not directly discuss egotism in the sense of self-aggrandizement.
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