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From Pleasure Machines to Moral Communities

An Evolutionary Economics without Homo economicus

Are humans at their core seekers of their own pleasure or cooperative members of society? Paradoxically, they are both. Pleasure-seeking can take place only within the context of what works within a defined community, and central to any community are the evolved codes and principles guiding appropriate behavior, or morality. The complex interaction of morality and self-interest is at the heart of Geoffrey M. Hodgson’s approach to evolutionary economics, which is designed to bring about a better understanding of human behavior.

In From Pleasure Machines to Moral Communities, Hodgson casts a critical eye on neoclassical individualism, its foundations and flaws, and turns to recent insights from research on the evolutionary bases of human behavior. He focuses his attention on the evolution of morality, its meaning, why it came about, and how it influences human attitudes and behavior. This more nuanced understanding sets the stage for a fascinating investigation of its implications on a range of pressing issues drawn from diverse environments, including the business world and crucial policy realms like health care and ecology.
This book provides a valuable complement to Hodgson’s earlier work with Thorbjørn Knudsen on evolutionary economics in Darwin’s Conjecture, extending the evolutionary outlook to include moral and policy-related issues.

328 pages | 2 line drawings, 2 tables | 6 x 9 | © 2012

Economics and Business: Economics--General Theory and Principles

Political Science: Political and Social Theory

Sociology: Individual, State and Society


“In his bold and thought-provoking new book, Geoffrey M. Hodgson exposes the deficiencies in ‘methodological individualism’ and shows how the neoclassical model of human nature is a crude caricature when it comes to dealing with the emergent dynamics of collective phenomena. In doing so, he provides much-needed clarification to our often muddy economic debate.”

Peter Corning, Institute for the Study of Complex Systems and author of Holistic Darwinism and The Fair Society

"Modern mainline economics has shown itself to be woefully inept at illuminating the workings of modern economies. Among the economists who are trying to help the discipline to reform, Geoffrey M. Hodgson stands out as one of the most creative and sensible."

Richard Nelson, Columbia University

"An outstanding product of impressive scholarship that makes the reader painfully aware of how much we lost when economics became orthodox. It is hard to say what one must admire more: the author’s profound familiarity with economic theory—both traditional and modern—or his original application of evolutionary reasoning to economic and social life, without falling into the trap of biologistic reductionism."

Wolfgang Streeck, Max Plank Institute for the Study of Societies

"Geoffrey M. Hodgson presents in this thought-provoking book a view of human sociality and moral concerns that is deeply rooted in an evolutionary worldview—and demonstrates the relevance of his vision. Highlighting morality issues in business enterprises, health services, the environmental crisis and, not least, corruption as a scourge of human sociality, he offers deep new insights."

Ulrich Witt, Max Plank Institute of Economics

“With From Pleasure Machines to Moral Communities, Geoffrey M. Hodgson has made an invaluable contribution in enriching the economic modeling of human choice along the lines of cutting-edge evolutionary research. Economists have wasted enough time trying to model clearly moral behavior as some clever strategy for maximizing payoffs and, with this book, Hodgson has provided them with the scientific justification to model moral behavior as what it truly is: human beings following principles in pursuit of their own self-interest.”

Journal of Bioeconomics

"From Pleasure Machines to Moral Communities presents a formidable challenge to the previous assumptions of CGE economics, which is currently under siege on a number of fronts. [It] offers a plausible, coherent alternative based on perhaps the most powerful idea of the last two centuries: evolution by natural selection. . . . Essential reading for anyone with an interest in the new and vibrant field of evolutionary social change.”


“Buy, borrow, but probably not steal this book! Hodgson has written a first-rate book that demonstrates how morality is not only part of people’s behavior, but also necessary for building a sound and humane economy and society. . . . This is possibly the single best summary of the importance of moral behavior in the economy and the inadequacy of basing economic theory solely on self-interested behavior. . . . [It] needs to be read by all social as well as institutionalist economists and by policy makers, whether conservative or liberal.”

Journal of Economic Issues

"Hodgson is one of a number of leading economists who challenge the individualistic and utilitarian assumptions upon which mainstream economics continues to operate and seeks to place the discipline on a new footing. . . . Political theologians would do well to read and digest his insights, which are at the cutting edge of heterodox economics, and there is no better place to begin than this text, which in foregrounding the ethical and moral dimension of his thinking, offers a ready-made locus to begin a mutually-beneficial, critical dialogue."

Political Theology

“Certainly a book that cannot pass without being noticed by economic sociologists. . . . Particularly convincing are the accounts of how subjective preferences and individual choices came to be at the centre of mainstream analysis of microeconomic phenomena, according to a model which progressively took the distance from ‘the much more complex view of human nature’ elaborated by Adam Smith, and which resulted in having the individual reduced to a pay-off maximizer and pleasure machine.”

Socio-Economic Review

Table of Contents


1. Introduction: Economic Man and Beyond
2. Meanings of Methodological Individualism
3. Rationality and Cooperation
4. The Nature of Morality
5. The Evolution of Morality
6. Morality and Cooperation in Business
7.  The Economics of Corruption and the Corruption of Economics
8. Human Needs and Moral Motivations in Health Economics
9. From Utilitarianism to Evolution in Ecological Economics
10. Toward an Evolutionary and Institutional Approach to Policy


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