Review of Behavioral Economics > Vol 3 > Issue 3-4

A Theoretical Foundation for Empathy Conservation: Toward Avoiding the Tragedy of the Commons

Gary D. Lynne, University of Nebraska-Lincoln, USA, , Natalia V. Czap, University of Michigan-Dearborn, USA, Hans J. Czap, University of Michigan-Dearborn, USA, Mark E. Burbach, University of Nebraska-Lincoln, USA
Suggested Citation
Gary D. Lynne, Natalia V. Czap, Hans J. Czap and Mark E. Burbach (2016), "A Theoretical Foundation for Empathy Conservation: Toward Avoiding the Tragedy of the Commons", Review of Behavioral Economics: Vol. 3: No. 3-4, pp 243-279.

Publication Date: 23 Dec 2016
© 2016 G. D. Lynne, N. V. Czap, H. J. Czap and M. E. Burbach
JEL Codes: D03D11D21D22D71D87H41Q28Q38Q53Q58
EgoEmpathyDual interestsDual motivesSelf-interestOther-interestOwn-interestTragedy of the commonsSustainability


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In this article:
1. Introduction 
2. Theoretical Foundations of the Role of Empathy 
3. Applications of MEF and DIT 
4. Empirical Evidence for the Empathy Conservation and Sustainability 
5. Critiques and Remaining Issues 
6. Conclusions 


Garrett Hardin pointed to the reality that often individuals with unrestrained access to the commons, e.g. an aquifer, a fishery, perhaps even the atmosphere of this spaceship Earth on which we travel together, would result in the “tragedy of the commons.” The tragedy arises from an egoistic-hedonistic based self-interest only orientation to the commons. This paper explores the role of empathy in tempering self-interest only outcomes with the other (shared with others)—interest in (empathy) conservation, as suggested by the metaeconomics framework (MEF) and dual interest theory (DIT). This suggests the real possibility for empathy conservation to avoid the tragedy in the cases of farming practices and consumer recycling behavior. The paper also gives a brief history while pointing to the current progress in the evolution toward an ever more highly developed MEF and DIT, as supported by empirical testing, pointing to how to really solve the commons problem.