Barry Schwartz: Professor

 

Barry Schwartz is the Dorwin Cartwright Professor of Social Theory and Social Action at Swarthmore College.

He is the author of the books:

  • The Costs of Living: How Market Freedom Erodes the Best Things in Life
  • The Paradox of Choice: Why More is Less
  • The Battle for Human Nature: Science, Morality, and Modern Life

“In his 2004 book The Paradox of Choice, Barry Schwartz tackles one of the great mysteries of modern life: Why is it that societies of great abundance — where individuals are offered more freedom and choice (personal, professional, material) than ever before — are now witnessing a near-epidemic of depression? Conventional wisdom tells us that greater choice is for the greater good, but Schwartz argues the opposite: He makes a compelling case that the abundance of choice in today’s western world is actually making us miserable.   Infinite choice is paralyzing, Schwartz argues, and exhausting to the human psyche. It leads us to set unreasonably high expectations, question our choices before we even make them and blame our failures entirely on ourselves. His relatable examples, from consumer products (jeans, TVs, salad dressings) to lifestyle choices (where to live, what job to take, who and when to marry), underscore this central point: Too much choice undermines happiness.  Schwartz’s previous research has addressed morality, decision-making and the varied inter-relationships between science and society. Before Paradox he published The Costs of Living, which traces the impact of free-market thinking on the explosion of consumerism — and the effect of the new capitalism on social and cultural institutions that once operated above the market, such as medicine, sports, and the law.  Both books level serious criticism of modern western society, illuminating the under-reported psychological plagues of our time. But they also offer concrete ideas on addressing the problems, from a personal and societal level.”

See Barry Schwartz Bio on TED.com.

 

Barry Schwartz on Using Our Practical Wisdom:

 

Barry Schwartz on Our Loss of Wisdom:

 

Barry Schwartz on The Paradox of Choice:

 

The Paradox of Choice

 

“As Americans, we assume that more choice means better options and greater satisfaction. But beware of excessive choice: choice overload can make you question the decisions you make before you even make them, it can set you up for unrealistically high expectations, and it can make you blame yourself for any and all failures. In the long run, this can lead to decision-making paralysis. And in a culture that tells us that there is no excuse for falling short of perfection when your options are limitless, too much choice can lead to clinical depression.”

The Paradox of Choice: Why More is Less (Harper Collins, 2005)

 

 

 

 

“Americans have come to view more and more of their lives in free-market, economic terms. Market thinking has permeated education, the professions, sports, family and friendship, and politics. This book presents a criticism of this market view of life, arguing that most of what is good about education, medicine, law, sports, love, friendship, and democratic politics is undermined if the market gets too close to them. Indeed, even the market stops working if people behave in it in the way that economists say people always behave. Thus, the book argues, the market erodes the best things in life, and must be restrained, not encouraged, in its movement into places where it doesn’t belong.”

The Costs of Living: How Market Freedom Erodes the Best Things in Life (Xlibris, 2001)

 

The Battle for Human Nature: Science, Morality and Modern Life

 

“This book presents the view of human nature as entirely governed by self-interest that is shared by the disciplines of evolutionary biology, neoclassical economics, and behavioral psychology. It shows what these disciplines have in common in their approach to understanding human nature, and contrasts their view with most people’s everyday conceptions of what human nature is like. After presenting the theoretical perspectives of each of these disciples, the book turns a critical eye on them, and argues that their views are at best limited, and often simply wrong. However, the book finally argues, we cannot expect the errors of these disciplines to be self-correcting, for if people and the social institutions they live within come to believe these disciplines, then our social lives will come to look more and more like a confirmation of the picture of human nature that they paint. The last two chapters of the book sketch a picture of the mean-spirited world that would result if we took these disciplines to be telling us the truth about human beings.”

The Battle for Human Nature: Science, Morality, and Modern Life (Norton, 1986)