What determines misbehavior

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Slides for this module (draft)

Let’s start this course with Dostoevsky’s Notes From the Underground, an insightful book on the true nature of humans. We like to think of ourselves as rational beings and capable of conducting ourselves in logical ways, but Dostoevsky has a more cynical perspective. He hates the idea that if we strived to be more rational, we would stop acting in ways that harmed ourselves and society.

Do people misbehave because they ignore their “utility”? He wrote that there are millions of instances where people have knowingly gone against choices that would bring them the greatest “utility” and well-being.

To understand “misbehavior” we need to understand that an individual is not a “sort of piano key or a sprig in an organ”. It is something more complex.  [Watch the following video].

Please answer the following questions before proceeding based on the Introduction of “The Nature and Method of Economic Sciences: Evidence, Causality, and Ends” by R. F. Crespo (2020).


Human behavior is complex. Very complex. Let’s explore the biology behind our good and bad decisions. In this fascinating talk (Stanford, October 24th, 2017) Robert Sapolsky, professor of Biology and Neurology at Stanford University and author of the book “Behave: The Biology of Humans at Our Best and Worst” takes us on an epic journey backwards through time. [Watch from min. 5:00 to 1:00:05]

Please answer the following questions before proceeding based on the video of Robert Sapolsky:



Neurosciences, Endocrinology, Genetics are not the only sciences that can help us better understand human misbehavior. Humanities can give us their contribution.

In the book Cents and Sensibility, Gary Saul Morson and Morton Schapiro make the case that the humanities, especially the study of literature, offer economists ways to make their models more realistic, their predictions more accurate, and their policies more effective and just. We have already seen Dostoevsky’s insights, now let’s see what Friedrich Wilhelm Nietzsche has to say.

“Main thought! The individual himself is a fallacy. Everything which happens in us is in itself something else which we do not know. ‘The individual’ is merely a sum of conscious feelings and judgments and misconceptions, a belief, a piece of the true life system or many pieces thought together and spun together, a ‘unity’, that doesn’t hold together. We are buds on a single tree—what do we know about what can become of us from the interests of the tree! But we have a consciousness as though we would and should be everything, a phantasy of ‘I’ and all ‘not I.’ Stop feeling oneself as this phantastic ego! Learn gradually to discard the supposed individual! Discover the fallacy of the ego! Recognize egoism as fallacy! The opposite is not to be understood as altruism! This would be love of other supposed individuals! No! Get beyond ‘myself’ and ‘yourself’!  Experience cosmically!”

― Nietzsche

To understand more about his vision, watch the following video that analyzes what it means to “become who you are” and explore some of Nietzsche’s fascinating psychological insights.

This other video examines Nietzsche’s ideas on why we have strayed from our instincts, and how this has weakened and domesticated us.

Please reflect on the following questions before proceeding. 

Questionnaire 1.3

Discussion: At the end of each module we have a discussion all together. Connect to my Zoom (link in Absalon) on Monday, August 10, at 16:15. I will answer your questions and  we will discuss together if “we are in control of our actions?

Summary of Module 1:

  • Behavior is complex. There is a biological complexity (brain structure, hormones, genes, environment) and there is a psychological complexity. Thus, many factors are responsible for what we do and regret (our misbehavior).
  • We need a (real) interdisciplinary approach -from literature to biology, from philosophy to neurosciences- to understand (the ends of) human behavior and misbehavior.

In the next module we will see how economists characterize human behavior, the limitations of this approach, but also its benefits.


Suggested movie for tonight: Split (2016)


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