Dissertation/Thesis Abstract

Fleshing out economic man: The "utilitarian dilemma" in historical perspective. (Volumes I and II)
by Brown, Kevin Lyle, Ph.D., The University of Chicago, 1994, 376; 9425363
Abstract (Summary)

The popular view of Newton's legacy to the social sciences is that the mechanical world-view which dominated the age was adapted by Hobbes and Locke into a utilitarian system based on the dual assumptions of enlightened egoism and a "natural" identity of interests. In his classic The Structure of Social Action, Talcott Parsons claims that the logical contradiction between these two assumptions known today as the "free-rider" problem renders any utilitarian solution to the problem of social order metaphysical, but a correct reading of the works of 17th-century English moral philosophers reveals that it was precisely this so-called "utilitarian dilemma" that gave birth to an empirical science of society in Newton's own time.

Locke's pupil, the 3rd earl of Shaftesbury, was the first person to realize that the adaptationist approach of the new science of natural history empirically proved that an instinctive "moral sense" obliges human actors to cooperate rather than free-ride, a biological solution to the problem of social order that makes Shaftesbury rather than Locke the Newton of the social sciences. On this biological foundation Francis Hutcheson and his more famous pupil, Adam Smith, built their accounts of how innate moral sentiments, not enlightened self-interest, enforces the social contract. Indeed, the "invisible hand" approach made famous by Adam Smith but shared by all the Scots is nothing but the naturalist's doctrine of adaptive instincts extended to human social behavior.

Although transmitted to Anglo-American social science through the evolutionary ideas of Charles Darwin, Parsons and later sociologists chose to ignore Adam Smith's account of the moral or normative environment of exchange. However, the recent rebirth of an interest in the biological structure of social action by developmental psychologists and evolutionary biologists has brought moral sense theory to the fore once again. Rather than assuming that the concepts of rational action and a "natural" sociability inherently are opposed, it seems that it is precisely by using modern biological theory to flesh out economic man to his original moral self that the "utilitarian dilemma" can be overcome and the problem of social order resolved.

Indexing (document details)
Advisor: Coleman, James S.
School: The University of Chicago
School Location: United States -- Illinois
Source: DAI-A 55/04, Dissertation Abstracts International
Subjects: Sociology, Social research, Science history, Economic theory
Publication Number: 9425363
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