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Christine Clavien, Rebekka Klein
conference paper description
In order to understand the human capacity for altruism one requires a proper understanding of how people actually think and feel. This paper addresses the relevance that recent findings in neu-roeconomics may have for the philosophical controversy between altruism and egoism, with par-ticular emphasis on the importance of emotion in understanding altruistic motivation. After briefly contextualising and sketching the philosophical controversy, we survey the results of three interesting studies that provide stimulating clues for the debate. We focus our attention particu-larly on the 2004 study in neuroeconomics by Dominique de Quervain, Urs Fischbacher and col-leagues, which contains an argument in favour of psychological egoism. On the basis of an emo-tional account of decision-making, we show that their analysis of the results – people seek fair-ness – may be questioned; we propose an alternative interpretation of the data – people seek re-venge. Unfortunately, our ‘emotion-directed’ interpretation renders this study far less relevant for the debate over the possibility of psychological altruism than previously expected.

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