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On the scope of economics : what is the question?


  • Elias L. Khalil

    (Institute for Study of Economic Evolution, University of Freiburg, Germany)


The paper attempts to identify the bone of contention concerning the extension of the neoclassical economic approach to traditional domains of other social sciences. The extension of the optimization hypothesis to the study of crime, status, and ideology - known as »economics imperialism> - definitely advances a universal social science. The paper tries to expose the crux of the debate surrounding such a broad scope of economics. The paper maintains that the central bone of contention concerns whether interest and moral commitment, understood as preferred interest, are commensurable as claimed by the optimization hypothesis of orthodox neoclassical economics. The paper argues, the commitment/interest commensurability issue is at the heart of the scope of economics debate. The paper tries to show that the universality of economics thesis is not about, first, whether moral utility is independent of pecuniary utility. Second, it is not about whether the taste for fine arts and the taste for American-style wrestling are commensurable. Third, the thesis is not about whether tastes are given or whether they are endogenously determined by sociocultural values. Fourth, the universality thesis is not about the tradeoff between self-interest and other-interest (i.e., altruism). For that matter, fifth, it is not about the determination of preferences per se. Rather, the paper maintains, the universality of economics thesis stands or falls depending on whether the taste for commitment (i.e., preferred moral principles and rules of justice) is smoothly substitutable with interest.

Suggested Citation

  • Elias L. Khalil, 1995. "On the scope of economics : what is the question?," Finnish Economic Papers, Finnish Economic Association, vol. 8(1), pages 40-55, Spring.
  • Handle: RePEc:fep:journl:v:8:y:1995:i:1:p:40-55

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    References listed on IDEAS

    1. Williamson, Oliver E, 1983. "Credible Commitments: Using Hostages to Support Exchange," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 73(4), pages 519-540, September.
    2. Carl Shapiro, 1983. "Premiums for High Quality Products as Returns to Reputations," The Quarterly Journal of Economics, Oxford University Press, vol. 98(4), pages 659-679.
    3. Brennan, Timothy J., 1989. "A Methodological Assessment of Multiple Utility Frameworks," Economics and Philosophy, Cambridge University Press, vol. 5(02), pages 189-208, October.
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    Cited by:

    1. Khalil, Elias L., 2004. "What is altruism?," Journal of Economic Psychology, Elsevier, vol. 25(1), pages 97-123, February.
    2. Khalil, Elias L., 1999. "Sentimental fools: a critique of Amartya Sen's notion of commitment," Journal of Economic Behavior & Organization, Elsevier, vol. 40(4), pages 373-386, December.
    3. Khalil, Elias L., 1996. "Respect, admiration, aggrandizement: Adam Smith as economic psychologist," Journal of Economic Psychology, Elsevier, vol. 17(5), pages 555-577, November.

    More about this item

    JEL classification:

    • D0 - Microeconomics - - General
    • B4 - Schools of Economic Thought and Methodology - - Economic Methodology


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