Self-realisation and usefulness: A critical examination of self-determination theory

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Individual autonomy (or self-determination) is increasingly treated by economists as a dimension of value, complementary with welfare, efficiency and distributional equality. Many contributors to this literature acknowledge Deci and Ryan’s self-determination theory as providing psychological foundations for the concepts of intrinsic motivation and autonomy. In a critical examination of that theory, I argue that its intrinsic/extrinsic categorisation of motivations and its emphasis on self-realisation do not properly recognise the ways in which individuals can find satisfaction in being useful to one another. If market transactions are viewed through the lens of self-determination theory, their moral content can be obscured.
Original languageEnglish
JournalReview of Behavioral Economics
Publication statusAccepted/In press - 10 Jan 2024


  • self-realisation
  • autonomy
  • self-determination theoty
  • usefulness

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