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Prizes and Virtues: an interdisciplinary workshop


Wednesday, February 15, 2017

The Heirs interdisciplinary workshop "Prizes and Virtues" will be held on April 10-11 in Rome, at the LUMSA University. The deadline for submission of extended abstracts is February 15, 2017. Heirs will honour the memory of the past Heirs’ President Professor Pier Luigi Porta by a special award to the best paper presented at this conference. Heirs (Happiness Economics and Interpersonal RelationS) is an association of economists applying the instruments and logic of economic theory to the study of subjective well-being or happiness.


To an economist, a prize, such as a golden medal, is merely a special type of incentive. Any other kind of social scientist would be perplexed by thinking of the Nobel Prize, or of the Medal of Honour, in these terms. In contemporary neoclassical economics, the concept of incentive is a primitive, similar to that of “utility”, “price”, “production” or “consumption”, that all economists use but none feels the need to define: it is a foundation, or a corner stone, of the science of economics. However, if we tried to articulate what economists mean by incentives, we would probably find that they are considered as any “motivation” for adhering to and for complying with some form of contract. Once incentives are intended in this all-embracing way, it immediately follows that prizes and awards are considered simply as their sub-set. Yet many real world prizes and awards do not follow this contractarian, consequentialist logic and cannot be understood within this framework. A more complex understanding of human motivation–we believe-is needed to hold that prizes are indeed not incentives.

This search cannot ignore the history of economic and philosophical ideals. Competing theories of action and motivation were central topics of debate among eighteenth century philosophers. David Hume, Jean-Jacques Rousseau, and Adam Smith’s theories implied much more complex social and economic motivations than mere self-interest, which can be opportunely diverted through an appropriate incentive. Within the Italian school of civil economy, Pietro Verri and Antonio Genovesi elaborated on the unintended consequences of public and institutional actions on individuals’ behaviour. In the same line, Giacinto Dragonetti debated (at a distance) with Cesare Beccaria on the nature and effectiveness of punishments and awards in shaping agents’ choices, both in private and public contexts. From the mid XIX century onward, economists became those social scientists most characterized by the purest anthropology (i.e. that of a human being acting in order to maximize individual utility), endorsing utilitarian philosophy and sacrificing previously complex understanding of human actions. In the XX century, microeconomics has continued this process of anthropological reductionism: management theory, as well as agency and contract theory, have distilled the allembracing theory of incentives.

In the last three decades, behavioural and experimental economics are undermining from
within this reductionist model of human behaviour. By taking serious account of concepts such as reciprocity, intrinsic motivation, inequality aversion, and fairness, they are making more complex interpretations of human action and motivation central again, albeit still within the utilitarian framework. In addition, there is an important contemporary philosophical stream of inquiry, the socalled virtue ethics, which competes with utilitarianism yet remains almost unknown to the economic profession. We argue that this research may provide further insights into human action, which seem otherwise intractable within the current anthropological framework, and can cast a new light on the nature and working of prizes as fundamentally different from incentives. In particular, prizes may well suit the rewarding of virtues, because incentive are known to be liable to cause motivation crowdingout.

To advance our understanding of the economics of prizes, awards and their link with virtues,we warmly invite economists, historians, philosophers, scholars in organization and management and other social scientists to answer to this call and submit an extended abstract (max 1000 words).

Keynote speakers

– Robert Dur, Erasmus University Rotterdam (Economics)
– Bruno Frey, University of Basel (Behavioural Science)
– Ruth Grant, Duke University (Political Science)

“Pier Luigi Porta” Award:

Heirs will honour the memory of the past Heirs’ President Professor Pier Luigi Porta by a special award to the best paper presented at this conference, a stream of research strongly supported by him before dying. Heirs invites all under fourty scholars to apply for this special “Pier Luigi Porta Award”. The award consist in 2500 euro plus travel cost and accomodation for the conference. The prize will be assigned during the social dinner.

Deadline for submissions of extended abstracts (max 1000 words)

February 15th, 2017 (acceptance date: February 25th, 2017)
to: heirs.unimib@gmail.com

Organization committee

HEIRS & LUMSA University
Luigino Bruni (LUMSA), Vittorio Pelligra (U. Cagliari), Tommaso Reggiani (LUMSA), Matteo Rizzolli (LUMSA), Alessandra Smerilli (LUMSA).


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