Review of Behavioral Economics > Vol 11 > Issue 2

Self-realisation and Usefulness: A Critical Examination of Self-determination Theory

Robert Sugden, School of Economics, University of East Anglia, UK,
Suggested Citation
Robert Sugden (2024), "Self-realisation and Usefulness: A Critical Examination of Self-determination Theory", Review of Behavioral Economics: Vol. 11: No. 2, pp 211-234.

Publication Date: 08 May 2024
© 2024 R. Sugden
Behavioral economics,  Psychology,  Happiness
JEL Codes: D63, D91, I31
Self-realisationself-determinationautonomyintrinsic motivationusefulness


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In this article:
Self-determination Theory 
Innate Psychological Needs 
The Dignity of Work 
Markets and Morals 
The Inner Rational Agent and The Unified Self 


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/extrinisic 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.



Review of Behavioral Economics, Volume 11, Issue 2 Special Issue: The Contribution of Behavioral Insights to Political Economy: Articles Overiew
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