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Passions Within Reason: The Strategic Role of the Emotions

4.37  ·  Rating details ·  133 ratings  ·  24 reviews
The idea rests on a simple paradox, namely, that in many situations the conscious pursuit of self-interest is incompatible with its attainment. We are all comfortable with the notion that someone who strives to be spontaneous can never succeed. So too, on brief reflection, will it become apparent that someone who always pursues self-interest is doomed to fail.
Paperback, 320 pages
Published November 17th 1989 by W. W. Norton & Company (first published 1988)
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Oct 02, 2014 rated it really liked it
A great book on the role of emotions in human behavior. Here are my reading notes.

# Introduction

Emotions serve as a commitment device. They could be inborn or culturally-acquired but it's important that the people having them be noticeably different (on average).

Character influences behavior, of course, but behavior also influences character. (p18)

> The opportunist's goal is to appear honest while availing himself of every opportunity for personal gain. He wants to seem like a good guy to the pe
Jan 25, 2018 rated it it was amazing
This is an excellent book. It’s Robert H Frank’s attempt to amend the self-interest model of economics by showing how emotions lead us to act in ways that might initially seem irrational, but often make (material & psychological) sense in social contexts. (It was published in 1988, and much of what he writes about has since become trendy).

As he says of seemingly altruistic acts – such as donating bone marrow or giving money to charity – “Traditional attempts to rationalize such behaviors have f
Sep 03, 2018 marked it as to-keep-reference
An axiom of economics is that people pursue their interests more or less rationally, and thats what makes markets work—Adam Smiths “invisible hand” of self-interest. But in the 1980s, a few economists began studying psychology and messing up the prevailing models. Leading the way was the Cornell economist Robert Frank, whose 1987 book Passions Within Reason analyzed some of the things people do that just don’t fit into economic models of pure self-interest—such as tipping in restaurants when far ...more
Bob Nichols
In the widely accepted model of economic “man,” we are thought to behave in such a way to promote our material self-interest. Acting consistently with this definition, Frank states, is rational; acting inconsistently is “inopportunistic” and “irrational.” But this model, he writes, is “a woefully inadequate description of the way people actually behave” and that is the central message of his book.

Frank sees hard-core altruism – acting without material benefit for the self – as the most direct ch
The Bean of
Jul 24, 2020 rated it it was amazing
I enjoyed watching Bob Frank attempt to take down Homo Economicus. Did he win? I think so. Nevertheless, this book was a delight to read: rigorously argued and lucidly written. In summary, you can have your cake and eat it too. No woo-woo shit here. Bob isn't arguing that we forego self-interest, that we look past material gain and focus on what truly matters, love. Nope. No need to fret, being nice is actually in your material self-interest!! No need for thankless altruism!! But don't get too g ...more
Apr 10, 2010 rated it really liked it
Shelves: non-fiction
The rationalist model of human behavior states that we do everything due to self interest. Even altruistic behavior exist due to the perception we have that they will serve our self-interests in some way, direct or indirect. This line of reasoning have permeated almost every science including biology, psychology, sociology and economics.

Economist Robert H. Franks questions this idea. How do you explain the person who returns a lost wallet with money intact or someone who gives anonymously to cha
Apr 04, 2012 rated it really liked it
At the time this came out it was virtually the only one of its kind- a book by a modern economist that considered in more than perfunctory way the predominently non-monetary values by which people live -and which give that life meaning. I haven't read much beyond short articles by him since, and my impression is that he's still stuck in pretty conventional thinking about economics, but well-deserved kudos for thinking about these things at a time when almost no one was. ...more
Heather Browning
Even though I had to read this for an essay, I found I enjoyed it. Frank's account of emotions as evolved mechanisms for motivating human co-operating makes sense, and his style is simple and readable. Rather than just skipping to the sections relevant to my assignment, I found I read the whole thing through. ...more
Passions Within Reason is a great early example of popular economics. Frank does a superb job of boiling down his insights into plain language (not an achievement to go unremarked). The main thesis is that while emotions may appear irrational (and possibly be a knock against rational choice theory), if averaged over many people, emotions can be seen as commit mechanisms that allow for mutual cooperation within a population. So we have comments like "if character traits are discernible, in order ...more
Francisco Andrés
Dec 19, 2017 rated it really liked it
Interesting departure of the rational agent paradigm. Because of its Darwinian approach, it gives insights into the source of (some of) our irrationalities in a way that most behavioral economics fails to appreciate.
Olga Tsvetkova
Feb 21, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Excellent book on the deep meaning of emotions and how they serve man on the scale of evolution.
Josh Curtis
Aug 21, 2017 rated it really liked it
Shelves: owned
It is rational to be predisposed to behave irrationally.
Syon Bhanot
Mar 24, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Tremendous book
Dmitry K
Aug 19, 2017 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: economics
Книга написана довольно сухим академическим языком, но что более существенно - слишком растянуто. В какой-то момент понял, что первоначальная тема куда-то ушла (точнее её остриё), разговор ведётся на её периферии и, в общем-то, к середине книги, интерес угас. Плюс, многое, о чём пишет автор, я знал давно и из других источников. Да и постоянно задаёшься одним и тем же вопросом – «Как всё это может соотноситься с реальность, как это может работать?».

The book is written in dry academic language, bu
Jim Rossi
Apr 19, 2015 rated it it was amazing
I read this book as an undergrad at Rutgers, courtesy of another fine author, Prof. Lionel Tiger, and have been grappling with these ideas ever since. Humans DO often act rationally, but our cerebral functions evolved relatively recently and rely on our sub-cortical structures and function. The brain overlaps in structure and function on levels. Rational thought and emotional decisions too overlap. Any theory which fails to account for this evolutionary fact is significantly incomplete. Robert T ...more
Mizrob A.
May 13, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Really fascinating book examining the roles of emotions in human decision making (or economic models). First, Robert H. Frank's writing is extremely lucid, now to the review of the theme.
Rationalists, people who think that human behavior is governed by self-interest model, can't adequately explain our cooperative behavior that has no personal benefit to us (like, anonymous donation, risking your life to rescue a stranger from burning building, returning lost wallet to a stranger). Frank's underl
Jun 27, 2007 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: readthisyear
Argues that even if you accept the premise that people are
selfish maximizers of their own utility, it does not
follow that every action they perform is selfish. Being
altruistic can, in fact, guarantee your long-term well-being
-- virtue really is its own reward. Argued economically
and evolutionarily, in a non-BS way. Very geek-friendly.
May 08, 2009 rated it it was amazing
Ground-breaking, if somewhat deliciously geeky analysis of why irrational behavior is adaptive. filled with examples. well written. now famous among social psychologist, economists, etc. Important lessons for how to conduct yourself to be more successful in life and business.
Sep 08, 2014 rated it it was amazing
Human emotions play roles in social interactions. Evolutionary perspective is rather helpful demystifying the complex human motivations system.
Nov 29, 2010 rated it it was amazing
Awesome book, must read
Aug 06, 2021 rated it liked it
Read for my Game Theory class LOL but for a required reading, Frank's writing is really really enjoyable. ...more
Apr 11, 2007 rated it it was amazing
a book i had to read for class called the Evolution of Morality. one of the best classes i have ever taken and this is one of the best books ive ever had to read for a class!
Will A
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May 30, 2018
Rashmi Mishra
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Sep 28, 2018
Gregory Levine
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Aug 02, 2011
Ian Reed
rated it it was amazing
Apr 24, 2018
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Feb 11, 2020
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Aug 25, 2020
rated it it was ok
Sep 24, 2017
rated it really liked it
Jan 13, 2016
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Robert H. Frank is the Henrietta Johnson Louis Professor of Management and a Professor of Economics at Cornell University's S.C. Johnson Graduate School of Management. He contributes to the "Economic View" column, which appears every fifth Sunday in The New York Times. ...more

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