Are preferences for real? Choice theory, folk psychology, and the hard case for commonsensible realism
According to “realists about commonsensibles” like Dan Hausman and Uskali Mäki, the existence of the theoretical entities of economics is a fact that no one should seriously doubt. But commonsensible realism is an unstable philosophical position, with a tendency to collapse into forms of behaviourism. In fact, behaviourism may turn out to be the only defensible interpretation of rational choice theory that avoids explicit reference to unobservable theoretical entities. The price to pay for this return to the old orthodoxy however is to deny that preferences have a causal role in the explanation of action, and to severe the economic theory of choice from research in psychology and cognitive science.
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