Functionalism and the role of psychology in economics

Journal of Economic Methodology 27 (4):292-310 (2020)
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Should economics study the psychological basis of agents' choice behaviour? I show how this question is multifaceted and profoundly ambiguous. There is no sharp distinction between "mentalist'' answers to this question and rival "behavioural'' answers. What's more, clarifying this point raises problems for mentalists of the "functionalist'' variety (Dietrich and List, 2016). Firstly, functionalist hypotheses collapse into hypotheses about input--output dispositions, I show, unless one places some unwelcome restrictions on what counts as a cognitive variable. Secondly, functionalist hypotheses make some risky commitments about the plasticity of agents' choice dispositions.

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Christopher Clarke
Cambridge University


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