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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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Bibliographic Info

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. Mandler, Michael & Manzini, Paola & Mariotti, Marco, 2012. "A million answers to twenty questions: Choosing by checklist," Journal of Economic Theory, Elsevier, Elsevier, vol. 147(1), pages 71-92.
  2. Glenn W Harrison, 2008. "Neuroeconomics: A Critical Reconsideration," Levine's Working Paper Archive 122247000000001915, David K. Levine.
  3. Sen, Amartya K, 1971. "Choice Functions and Revealed Preference," Review of Economic Studies, Wiley Blackwell, Wiley Blackwell, vol. 38(115), pages 307-17, July.
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  5. Hausman, Daniel M., 2000. "Revealed preference, belief, and game theory," Economics and Philosophy, Cambridge University Press, Cambridge University Press, vol. 16(01), pages 99-115, April.
  6. Hausman, Daniel M., 1998. "Problems with Realism in Economics," Economics and Philosophy, Cambridge University Press, Cambridge University Press, vol. 14(02), pages 185-213, October.
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  8. Aditi Bhattacharyya & Prasanta K. Pattanaik & Yongsheng Xu, 2010. "Choice, internal consistency, and rationality," Working Papers, Sam Houston State University, Department of Economics and International Business 1011, Sam Houston State University, Department of Economics and International Business.
  9. Suzumura, Kotaro & Xu, Yongsheng, 2000. "Characterizations of Consequentialism and Non-consequentialism," Discussion Paper, Center for Intergenerational Studies, Institute of Economic Research, Hitotsubashi University 3, Center for Intergenerational Studies, Institute of Economic Research, Hitotsubashi University.
  10. Matthew Rabin & Botond Kőszegi, 2007. "Mistakes in Choice-Based Welfare Analysis," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, American Economic Association, vol. 97(2), pages 477-481, May.
  11. Manzini, Paola & Mariotti, Marco, 2010. "Moody choice," SIRE Discussion Papers, Scottish Institute for Research in Economics (SIRE) 2010-15, Scottish Institute for Research in Economics (SIRE).
  12. Paola Manzini & Marco Mariotti, 2007. "Sequentially Rationalizable Choice," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, American Economic Association, vol. 97(5), pages 1824-1839, December.
  13. Bossert, Walter & Suzumura, Kotaro, 2008. "External Norms and Rationality of Choice," PIE/CIS Discussion Paper, Center for Intergenerational Studies, Institute of Economic Research, Hitotsubashi University 382, Center for Intergenerational Studies, Institute of Economic Research, Hitotsubashi University.
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