Humanistic rational choice

Understanding the fundamental motivations that drive self-organization and cooperation in commons dilemmas

Authored by: Daniel A. DeCaro

Routledge Handbook of the Study of the Commons

Print publication date:  January  2019
Online publication date:  January  2019

Print ISBN: 9781138060906
eBook ISBN: 9781315162782
Adobe ISBN:


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Human civilization is built on humanity’s capacity for cooperation. Cooperation is necessary to provide the public good and overcome fundamental societal dilemmas, such as competition over limited resources and opportunities, which can contribute to war and environmental degradation (Parks et al. 2013). Broad-scale cooperation is supported by governance systems that promote rule-abiding behavior and direct members of society with diverse interests and beliefs towards more cooperative outcomes (Ostrom 1998; Tyler 2006). For example, in a common-pool resource (CPR) dilemma, stakeholders compete to use a shared resource (e.g., water) and are tempted to harvest more than their share (Hardin 1968). Without effective governance, such as conservation agreements and regulatory systems to limit consumption, smooth coordination, and build mutual trust, these stakeholders may collectively destroy the resource, destabilizing society and undermining human welfare (UNGA 2015).

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