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Mentalism versus behaviourism in economics: a philosophy-of-science perspective

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  • Dietrich, Franz
  • List, Christian

Abstract

Behaviourism is the view that preferences, beliefs, and other mental states in social-scienti�c theories are auxiliary constructs re-describing people's behav- ioural dispositions. Mentalism is the view that they capture real phenomena, no less existent than the unobservable entities and properties in the natural sciences, such as electrons and electromagnetic �elds. While behaviourism has long gone out of fashion in psychology and linguistics, it remains the dominant orthodoxy in economics, especially in the form of �revealed preference�theory. We aim to (i) clear up some common conceptual confusions about the two views in economics, (ii) situate the debate in a broader historical and philosophical context, and (iii) defend a mentalist approach to economics. Setting aside normative concerns about behaviourism, we show that mentalism is in line with best scienti�c practice even if economics is treated as a purely positive science of human social behaviour. We distinguish mentalism from, and reject, the radical neuroeconomic view that social behaviour should be explained in terms of people's brain processes, as distinct from their mental states.

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Paper provided by University Library of Munich, Germany in its series MPRA Paper with number 37813.

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Date of creation: 01 Apr 2012
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Handle: RePEc:pra:mprapa:37813

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Keywords: behaviourism; mentalism; realism; economic models; preferences; beliefs; rationalization; philosophy of science; neuroeconomics;

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  1. Manzini, Paola & Mariotti, Marco, 2010. "Moody Choice," IZA Discussion Papers 5005, Institute for the Study of Labor (IZA).
  2. Bossert, Walter & Suzumura, Kotaro, 2009. "External Norms And Rationality Of Choice," Economics and Philosophy, Cambridge University Press, vol. 25(02), pages 139-152, July.
  3. Bossert, Walter & Suzumura, Kotaro, 2009. "Consistency, Choice and Rationality," PIE/CIS Discussion Paper 428, Center for Intergenerational Studies, Institute of Economic Research, Hitotsubashi University.
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  8. Suzumura, Kotaro & Xu, Yongsheng, 2001. "Characterizations of Consequentialism and Nonconsequentialism," Journal of Economic Theory, Elsevier, vol. 101(2), pages 423-436, December.
  9. Hausman, Daniel M., 2000. "Revealed preference, belief, and game theory," Economics and Philosophy, Cambridge University Press, vol. 16(01), pages 99-115, April.
  10. Bhattacharyya, Aditi & Pattanaik, Prasanta K. & Xu, Yongsheng, 2011. "Choice, Internal Consistency And Rationality," Economics and Philosophy, Cambridge University Press, vol. 27(02), pages 123-149, July.
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  12. Hausman, Daniel M., 1998. "Problems with Realism in Economics," Economics and Philosophy, Cambridge University Press, vol. 14(02), pages 185-213, October.
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