For rationality theory, agents maximize welfare utility functions given the constraints. Following Adam Smith, the utility functions allow sympathy with the sorrows and joys of fellow agents. How could such a worldly theory explain sacred beliefs over which people become emotional such as the flag, saints, and taboos against infanticide, pedophilism, and cannibalism? If we analyze sympathy carefully, agents can only sympathize with others if they also approve of the actions of others. Approval gives rise to ego-utility, such as self-pride and self-esteem, that cannot be reduced to elfare-utility because approval does not involve allocation of resources. The talk proposes that the sacred is simply the outgrowth of ego-utility. It is argued, on different grounds, why the proposed naturalist explanation is superior to group selection theory.
Elias Khalil is a fellow at the Konrad Lorenz Institute. He is a co-editor of the Journal of Institutional Economics. He held visiting positions at the Max Planck Institute for Research into Economics Systems, Judge Institute at Cambridge University, and the Department of Economics at the University of Chicago. He also held teaching positions at Vassar College (New York) and Ohio State University.