Mentalism versus Behaviourism in Economics: A Philosophy-of-Science Perspective

Economics and Philosophy 32 (2):249-281 (2016)
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Abstract

Behaviourism is the view that preferences, beliefs, and other mental states in social-scientific theories are nothing but constructs re-describing people's behaviour. Mentalism is the view that they capture real phenomena, on a par with the unobservables in science, such as electrons and electromagnetic fields. While behaviourism has gone out of fashion in psychology, it remains influential in economics, especially in ‘revealed preference’ theory. We defend mentalism in economics, construed as a positive science, and show that it fits best scientific practice. We distinguish mentalism from, and reject, the radical neuroeconomic view that behaviour should be explained in terms of brain processes, as distinct from mental states.

Author Profiles

Franz Dietrich
Centre National de la Recherche Scientifique
Christian List
Ludwig Maximilians Universität, München

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