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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.

Suggested Citation

  • Dietrich, Franz & List, Christian, 2012. "Mentalism versus behaviourism in economics: a philosophy-of-science perspective," MPRA Paper 37813, University Library of Munich, Germany.
  • Handle: RePEc:pra:mprapa:37813
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    References listed on IDEAS

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    Citations

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    Cited by:

    1. Francesco GUALA, 2017. "Preferences: Neither Behavioural nor Mental," Departmental Working Papers 2017-05, Department of Economics, Management and Quantitative Methods at Università degli Studi di Milano.
    2. Dietrich, Franz & List, Christian, 2016. "Reason-Based Choice And Context-Dependence: An Explanatory Framework," Economics and Philosophy, Cambridge University Press, vol. 32(02), pages 175-229, July.
    3. Miles Kimball, 2015. "Cognitive Economics," The Japanese Economic Review, Japanese Economic Association, vol. 66(2), pages 167-181, June.
    4. repec:hal:journl:halshs-01249514 is not listed on IDEAS
    5. Dietrich, Franz & List, Christian, 2013. "Reason-Based Rationalization," MPRA Paper 51776, University Library of Munich, Germany.
    6. Dietrich, Franz & List, Christian, 2016. "Reason-Based Choice And Context-Dependence: An Explanatory Framework," Economics and Philosophy, Cambridge University Press, vol. 32(02), pages 175-229, July.
    7. Shintaro Tamate, 2015. "External Norms and Systematically Observed Norms," The Japanese Economic Review, Japanese Economic Association, vol. 66(2), pages 247-259, June.
    8. repec:spr:infosf:v:17:y:2015:i:4:d:10.1007_s10796-014-9520-7 is not listed on IDEAS

    More about this item

    Keywords

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

    JEL classification:

    • B0 - Schools of Economic Thought and Methodology - - General
    • C0 - Mathematical and Quantitative Methods - - General
    • A11 - General Economics and Teaching - - General Economics - - - Role of Economics; Role of Economists
    • D03 - Microeconomics - - General - - - Behavioral Microeconomics: Underlying Principles
    • D0 - Microeconomics - - General
    • N0 - Economic History - - General
    • A12 - General Economics and Teaching - - General Economics - - - Relation of Economics to Other Disciplines
    • D01 - Microeconomics - - General - - - Microeconomic Behavior: Underlying Principles
    • A14 - General Economics and Teaching - - General Economics - - - Sociology of Economics
    • B41 - Schools of Economic Thought and Methodology - - Economic Methodology - - - Economic Methodology

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