This article provides a historical account of the developments of research into seemingly unselfish behavior between 1975 and 1993. I shall first argue that the triumph of the self-interest model in the examination of seemingly unselfish behavior can better be understood if it is remembered that the attempts by a handful of economists to expand their jurisdiction over phenomena that had remained outside their reach occurred at a time when natural scientists showed similar ambitions. As those economists' efforts found a more receptive audience within the profession, disputes shifted, within the discipline itself, to the public policy implications of seemingly unselfish behavior. Then I shall argue that the various efforts to go beyond the self-interest model in economics and political science failed to build a coherent alternative model and produced equally ambiguous policy implications. My conclusion stresses the difficulty of escaping the customary presupposition that seemingly unselfish behavior concerns close-knit groups whereas selfishness applies to impersonal gatherings.
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Philippe Fontaine; Beyond Altruism? Economics and the Minimization of Unselfish Behavior, 1975–93. History of Political Economy 1 June 2012; 44 (2): 195–233. doi: https://doi.org/10.1215/00182702-1571701
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