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The Economics of Sin

Rational Choice or No Choice at All?

Samuel Cameron

The Economics of Sin examines the definition and evolution of sin from the perspective of rational choice economics, yet is conscious of the limitations of such an approach. The author argues that because engaging in activities deemed to be sinful is an act of choice, it can therefore be subject to the logic of choice in the economic model.
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Chapter 6: Lies and Deceit

Rational Choice or No Choice at All?

Samuel Cameron


NAMES AND DEFINITIONS It is probably fair to say that, in most religions, lying is the most frowned upon of the seven deadly sins. Most likely, it is so heavily frowned upon due to a ‘contagion’ argument that once one starts to lie about anything at all, success in so doing will lead to a slide in morality culminating in turning one’s back on the faith and its deity. This is why the tale of the betrayal of Jesus Christ by Judas Iscariot is so central to biblical teachings, to the extent that the name of the betrayer has entered the language as a generic name for all betrayers. Lying and deceit are frequently automatic instrumentalities of the other sins. Those gripped by lust, greed and envy will often be driven into deceit by the desire to vent these emotions. In 1759, Smith put the case of the accused as follows: ‘To tell a man that he lies is of all affronts the most mortal’ (p. 530). In the secular world of drama, and other art forms, the lie performed in assistance of other moral shortcomings is brought in for much more condemnation than the largely inconsequential lie. Often, scenarios are presented as if an honest greedy or adulterous person (for example) was somehow less culpable. However, it would in many cases be extremely difficult to satisfy the cravings of such sins of passion in the first place without resort to lying. In part, this is due to the institutional...

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