Ethical Theory and Moral Practice

, Volume 13, Issue 5, pp 541–559 | Cite as

Rational Choice Virtues

  • Bruno Verbeek


In this essay, I review some results that suggest that rational choice theory has interesting things to say about the virtues. In particular, I argue that rational choice theory can show, first, the role of certain virtues in a game-theoretic analysis of norms. Secondly, that it is useful in the characterization of these virtues. Finally, I discuss how rational choice theory can be brought to bear upon the justification of these virtues by showing how they contribute to a flourishing life. I do this by discussing one particular example of a norm - the requirement that agents to honor their promises of mutual assistance - and one particular virtue, trustworthiness.


Rational choice Virtues Social norms Game theory 


  1. Ainslie G (1975) Specious reward: A behavioral theory of impulsiveness and impulse control. Psychological Bulletin 21:483–489CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  2. Ainslie G (1982) A behavioral economic approach to the defense mechanisms: Freud’s energy theory revisited. Social Science Information 21:735–779CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  3. Ainslie G (1992) Picoeconomics: The strategic interaction of successive motivational states within the person. Cambridge, Cambridge University PressGoogle Scholar
  4. Ainslie G, Herrnstein R (1981) Preference reversal and delayed reinforcement. Animal Learning and Behavior 9:476–482CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  5. Aristotle (1932) Politics. Translated by H. Rackham. Vol. XXI. Loeb Classical Library. Cambridge: Harvard University PressGoogle Scholar
  6. Aristotle (1934) Nicomachean ethics. Translated by H. Rackham. Vol. XIX. Loeb Classical Library. Cambridge: Harvard University PressGoogle Scholar
  7. Axelrod R (1984) The evolution of cooperation. Basic Books, New YorkGoogle Scholar
  8. Baier A (1986) Trust and anti-trust. Ethics 96:231–260CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  9. Baurmann M (2001) The market of virtue: morality and commitment in a Liberal Society (Translated by R. Zimmerling). Kluwer Law International, The HagueGoogle Scholar
  10. Binmore K (1994) Playing fair (game theory and the social contract, volume 1). The MIT Press, CambridgeGoogle Scholar
  11. Binmore K (1998) Just playing (game theory and the social contract, vol. 2). The MIT Press, CambridgeGoogle Scholar
  12. Broome J (1991) Weighing goods: Equality, uncertainty and time. Blackwell, CambridgeGoogle Scholar
  13. De Bruin B (2004) Explaining games. On the logic of game theoretic explanations. PhD Thesis, University of AmsterdamGoogle Scholar
  14. DePaulo B, Rosenthal R (1979) Ambivalence, discrepancy, and deception in nonverbal communication. Skill in nonverbal communication. R. Rosenthal, Cambridge, Oelgeschlager, Gunn and HainGoogle Scholar
  15. DePaulo B, Zuckerman M et al. (1980). “Humans as lie detectors.” Journal of Communications Spring.Google Scholar
  16. Frank R (1987) If homo economicus could choose his own utility function, would he want one with a conscience? American Economic Review 77(4):593–604Google Scholar
  17. Frank R (1988) Passions within reason. London, W. W. Norton & Company, IncGoogle Scholar
  18. Frank R, Gilovich T et al (1993) The evolution of one-shot cooperation. Ethology and Sociobiology 14:247–256CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  19. Franssen M (1997) Some contributions to methodological individualism in the social sciences, University of AmsterdamGoogle Scholar
  20. Hardin R (1993) The street-level epistemology of trust. Politics and Society 21:505–529CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  21. Hart HLA (1994) The concept of law, 2nd edn. Clarendon Press, OxfordGoogle Scholar
  22. Harrington J Jr (1989) If homo economicus could choose his own utility function, would he want one with a conscience?: Comment. American Economic Review 79:588–593Google Scholar
  23. Herrnstein R (1970) On the law of effect. Journal of the Experimental Analysis of Behavior 13(2):242–266CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  24. Hume D (1998) An enquiry concerning the principles of morals. In: Beauchamp TL (ed). Oxford University Press, OxfordGoogle Scholar
  25. Hume D (2001) A treatise on human nature. Oxford University Press, OxfordGoogle Scholar
  26. Hursthouse R (1996) Normative virtue ethics. How should one live? R. Crisp. Oxford, Oxford University Press: 19–36Google Scholar
  27. Hursthouse R (1999) On virtue ethics. Oxford University Press, OxfordGoogle Scholar
  28. Hursthouse R (2009) Virtue ethics. In : Zalta EN (ed), The Stanford encylopedia of philosophy, Spring edn.,
  29. Jones K (1996) Trust as an affective attitude. Ethics 107(1):4–25CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  30. Kuhn ST (2004) Reflections on ethics and game theory. Synthese 141(1):1–44CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  31. Lahno B (1995) Versprechen: Überlegungen zu einer künslichen tugend. München, Oldenbourg VerlagGoogle Scholar
  32. Lahno B (2002) Der begriff des vertrauens. Paderborn, MentisGoogle Scholar
  33. Liebrand W, Wilke H et al (1986) Value orientation and conformity. Journal of Conflict Resolution 30(1):77–97CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  34. MacIntyre A (1981) After virtue. University of Notre Dame Press, Notre DameGoogle Scholar
  35. Margolis H (1981) A new model of rational choice. Ethics 91:265–279CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  36. McClintock, Liebrand W (1988) “The role of interdependence structure, individual value orientation, and another's strategy in social decision making.”. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology 55:369–409CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  37. Morris CW (1999) What is this thing called 'reputation'? Business Ethics Quarterly 9(1):87–102CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  38. Pettit P (1995) The cunning of trust. Philosophy and Public Affairs 24(3):202–225CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  39. Rescher N (1975) Unselfishness: The role of the vicarious affects in moral philosophy and social theory. University of Pittsburgh Press, PittsburghGoogle Scholar
  40. Skyrms B (1996) Evolution of the social contract. Cambridge University Press, CambridgeGoogle Scholar
  41. Skyrms B (2004) The stag hunt and the evolution of social structure. Cambridge University Press, CambridgeGoogle Scholar
  42. Slote M (2001) Morals from motives. Oxford, Oxford University PressCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  43. Smith JM (1982) Evolution and the theory of games. Cambridge University Press, CambridgeGoogle Scholar
  44. Strawson PF (1962) Freedom and resentment. Proceedings of the British Academy 48:1–25CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  45. Sugden R (1986) The economics of rights, co-operation and welfare. Basil Blackwell, OxfordGoogle Scholar
  46. Vanderschraaf P (1999) Game theory, evolution, and justice. Philosophy and Public Affairs 28(4):325–358CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  47. Verbeek B (2002) Instrumental rationality and moral philosophy: An essay on the virtues of cooperation. Kluwer Academic Publishers, DordrechtGoogle Scholar
  48. Verbeek B (2007) The authority of norms. American Philosophical Quarterly 44(3):245–258Google Scholar
  49. Verbeek B, Morris C (2004) Game theory and ethics. The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy (Fall 2008 Edition), Edward N. Zalta (ed.),
  50. Zuckerman M, Paulo BD et al (1981) “Verbal and nonverbal communication of deception.” Advances in Experimental and Social Psychology 14.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media B.V. 2010

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Leiden UniversityLeidenNetherlands

Personalised recommendations