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Choice and Action

Listed author(s):
  • David Lane
  • Franco Malerba
  • Robert Maxfield
  • Luigi Orsenigo

In this essay, we argue that the rational choice (RC) provides an inadequate foundation for a theory of economic action. After defining RC sufficiently broadly to encompass much of the bounded rationality literature as well as neoclassical optimization theory, we present three principal arguments against RC. The first is cognitive: economic actors are experts at what they do, and the cognitive processes that underlie expertise are not consistent with RC, descriptively, prescriptively or positively. The second argument begins with the observation that economic action takes place in and through relationships between agents, and these relationships may generate actions that cannot be localized to individual agents. We argue that these generative relationships are essential to understanding such fundamental economic phenomena as innovation, and the actions that result from them are not amenable to analysis from a RC perspective. Finally, we argue that most economic agents lack the judgment and execution coherence required by RC. In a companion paper, we propose an alternative foundation for a theory of economic action that builds on the critique of RC presented in this paper.

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Paper provided by Santa Fe Institute in its series Working Papers with number 95-01-004.

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Date of creation: Jan 1995
Handle: RePEc:wop:safiwp:95-01-004
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