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Are preferences for real? Choice theory, folk psychology, and the hard case for commonsensible realism

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  • Francesco GUALA

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Abstract

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.

Suggested Citation

  • Francesco GUALA, 2011. "Are preferences for real? Choice theory, folk psychology, and the hard case for commonsensible realism," Departmental Working Papers 2011-18, Department of Economics, Management and Quantitative Methods at Università degli Studi di Milano.
  • Handle: RePEc:mil:wpdepa:2011-18
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    File URL: http://wp.demm.unimi.it/files/wp/2011/DEMM-2011_018wp.pdf
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    References listed on IDEAS

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    1. Loomes, Graham & Sugden, Robert, 1982. "Regret Theory: An Alternative Theory of Rational Choice under Uncertainty," Economic Journal, Royal Economic Society, vol. 92(368), pages 805-824, December.
    2. Rosenberg, Alexander, 1992. "Economics--Mathematical Politics or Science of Diminishing Returns?," University of Chicago Press Economics Books, University of Chicago Press, edition 1, number 9780226727233.
    3. Harro Maas, 2005. "Jevons, Mill And The Private Laboratory Of The Mind," Manchester School, University of Manchester, vol. 73(5), pages 620-649, September.
    4. Kahneman, Daniel & Tversky, Amos, 1979. "Prospect Theory: An Analysis of Decision under Risk," Econometrica, Econometric Society, vol. 47(2), pages 263-291, March.
    5. Hausman,Daniel M., 1992. "The Inexact and Separate Science of Economics," Cambridge Books, Cambridge University Press, number 9780521415019, December.
    6. Hausman,Daniel M., 1992. "The Inexact and Separate Science of Economics," Cambridge Books, Cambridge University Press, number 9780521425230, December.
    7. Hausman, Daniel M., 1998. "Problems with Realism in Economics," Economics and Philosophy, Cambridge University Press, vol. 14(02), pages 185-213, October.
    Full references (including those not matched with items on IDEAS)

    More about this item

    Keywords

    Preferences; Psychology; Rational choice theory; Realism;

    JEL classification:

    • B41 - Schools of Economic Thought and Methodology - - Economic Methodology - - - Economic Methodology
    • D01 - Microeconomics - - General - - - Microeconomic Behavior: Underlying Principles
    • D03 - Microeconomics - - General - - - Behavioral Microeconomics: Underlying Principles

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