Can Altruism Survive in Competitive Environments? (Part I)

Can Altruism Survive in Competitive Environments? (Part I)


According to many Western biologists and other behavioral scientists, competition has assured that narrow self-interest is the only important human motive. In this presentation, we will challenge this prevailing view by describing an important class of economic and social problems in which selfish motives turn out to be self-defeating. Drawing on evidence that reliable nonverbal signals of character exist, we will explain how cooperative predispositions might survive in – and, indeed, even be nurtured by – competitive environments. This count is at once in harmony with the Western view that self-interest underlies all action and, at the same time, with the Buddhist view that there can be great advantage in transcending our selfish tendencies.

  • Dialogue 5
    9 sessions
  • October 6, 1995
    Dharamsala, Himachal Pradesh, India
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Robert H. Frank

Robert H. Frank (USA, 1945) received his Ph.D. in economics in 1972 from U.C. Berkeley. He holds a joint appointment as Professor of Economics in Cornell University's Johnson Graduate School of Management and as Goldwin Smith Professor of Economics, Ethics, and Public Policy in Cornell's College of Arts and Sciences, where he has taught since 1972. His books include: Choosing the Right Pond: Human Behavior and the Quest for Status (Oxford University Press, 1985); Passions Within Reason: The Strategic Role of the Emotions (W. W. Norton, 1988); Microeconomics and Behavior (McGraw-Hill, 1991); and The Winner-Take-All Society (with Philip Cook, The Free Press, 1995). Besides teaching at Cornell, he taught math and science as a Peace Corps Volunteer in rural Nepal from 1966 to 1968; he served as chief economist for the Civil Aeronautics Board from 1978 to 1980; and during the 1992-93 academic year, he was a Fellow at the Center for Advanced Study in the Behavioral Sciences.