Emotions, norms, and the genealogy of fairness

Shaun Nichols

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

15 Scopus citations


In The Grammar of Society, Bicchieri maintains that behavior in the Ultimatum game (and related economic games) depends on people's allegiance to 'social norms'. In this article, I follow Bicchieri in maintaining that an adequate account of people's behavior in such games must make appeal to norms, including a norm of equal division; I depart from Bicchieri in maintaining that at least part of the population desires to follow such norms even when they do not expect others to follow them. This generates a puzzle, however: why do norms of equal division have such cultural resilience? One possibility is that our natural emotional propensity for envy makes norms of equal division emotionally appealing. An alternative (but complementary) possibility is that deviations from a norm of equal division would naturally be interpreted as threats to status, which would facilitate the moralization of such norms.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)275-296
Number of pages22
JournalPolitics, Philosophy and Economics
Issue number3
StatePublished - 2010


  • Bicchieri
  • Envy
  • Moralization
  • Rozin
  • Sperber
  • Status
  • Ultimatum game

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Philosophy
  • Sociology and Political Science
  • Economics and Econometrics


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