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Narratives, Imperatives, and Moral Persuasion

Roland Bénabou, Armin Falk and Jean Tirole
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Roland Bénabou: Princeton University

Working Papers from Princeton University. Economics Department.

Abstract: We study the production and circulation of arguments justifying actions on the basis of morality. By downplaying externalities, exculpatory narratives allow people to maintain a positive image while acting selfishly. Conversely, responsibilizing narratives raise both direct and reputational stakes, fostering prosocial behavior. These rationales diffuse along a linear network, through both costly signaling and strategic disclosure. The norms that emerge reflect local correlation in agents’ incentives (reputation versus influence concerns), with low mixing generating both a polarization of beliefs across groups and less moral behavior on average. Imperatives (general precepts) constitute an alternative mode of moral influence. We analyze their costs and benefits relative to those of narratives, and when the two will be used as substitutes or complements.

Keywords: Moral behavior; narratives; imperatives; rules; excuses; responsibility; networks; viral transmission; influence; reputation; disclosure; communication; social norms (search for similar items in EconPapers)
JEL-codes: D62 D64 D78 D83 D85 D91 H41 K42 L14 Z13 (search for similar items in EconPapers)
Date: 2020-04
New Economics Papers: this item is included in nep-cbe, nep-exp, nep-gth, nep-hpe, nep-law, nep-mic, nep-neu and nep-soc
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