Economics and Philosophy



James Konow

Kiel University and Kiel Institute for the World Economy, Germany and Loyola Marymount University, USA


Third-party decision-makers, or spectators, have emerged as a useful empirical tool in modern social science research on moral motivation. Spectators of a sort also serve a central role in Adam Smith's moral theory. This paper compares these two types of spectatorship with respect to their goals, methodologies, visions of human nature and emphasis on moral rules. I find important similarities and differences and conclude that this comparison suggests significant opportunities for philosophical ethics to inform empirical and theoretical research on moral preferences and vice versa.

James Konow is Chair of Economics and Ethics at Kiel University and the Kiel Institute for the World Economy and Professor of Economics at Loyola Marymount University. He employs empirical and theoretical methods to investigate positive and normative aspects of ethics in economics. His main interests include distributive justice, altruism, happiness, impartiality, and environmental economics and ethics.


  This paper is one product of the 2009 conference celebrating the 250th anniversary of the publication of The Theory of Moral Sentiments at the Centre for the Study of Mind in Nature in Oslo. I wish to thank two referees and the Editor of this journal, Christian List, for very helpful and constructive comments. I also wish to acknowledge very useful feedback on earlier versions from Martin Binder, Matthew Braham, Maria Carrasco, Thomas Cushman, Sam Fleischacker, Christel Fricke, John O'Neill, Mozaffar Qizilbash, Jonathan Riley, Christian Schubert, Bob Sugden and Viktor Vanberg. Any shortcomings remain, of course, the sole property of the author.