Narratives, Imperatives, and Moral Reasoning
By downplaying externalities, magnifying the cost of moral behavior, or suggesting not being pivotal, exculpatory narratives can allow individuals to maintain a positive image when in fact acting in a morally questionable way. Conversely, responsibilizing narratives can help sustain better social norms. We investigate when narratives emerge from a principal or the actor himself, how they are interpreted and transmitted by others, and when they spread virally. We then turn to how narratives compete with imperatives (general moral rules or precepts) as alternative modes of communication to persuade agents to behave in desirable ways.
We are thankful for valuable comments and suggestions from Johannes Abeler, Daniel Chen, Thomas Graeber, Johannes Hermle, Ian Jewitt, Christopher Roth, Gilles Saint Paul, Paul Seabright, Nora Szech, Joël van der Weele and participants at the European University Institute, the second IAST-IEC workshop in Toulouse, the Personal Identity Conference (Chicago), Université Libre de Bruxelles, University of Munich, the Dipak Banerjee lecture at Presidency University Kolkata, the workshop on Moral Reasoning in Economics (Bonn), the ERINN network, the PSE conference on Cultural Transmission and the Economics of Cultural Change, Sciences Po, the LSE., U.C. Berkekey, INSEAD and the SIOE. conference. Ana Luisa Dutra, Juliette Fournier, Pierre-Luc Vautrey, Thorben Woelk and Ben S. Young provided superb research assistance. Bénabou gratefully acknowledges financial support from the Canadian Institute for Advanced Study, Tirole and Falk from the European Research Council (European Community's Seventh Framework Programme Grant Agreement no. 249429 and no. 340950, as well as European Union's Horizon 2020 research and innovation programme, Grant Agreement no. 669217). The views expressed herein are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the views of the National Bureau of Economic Research.