top of page
In past work, I've engaged with the debate about whether economics would better achieve its aims if it were to use concepts, theories, and evidence from neuroscience, cognitive science, or commonsense psychology. The mentalist tradition says yes, and behavioural tradition says no.
To make sense of this debate over the relationship between economics and psychology, I argue in Paper 1, Paper 3 and Paper 7 that one needs to distinguish the ultimate aims of economics as discipline (on the one hand) from the best means of pursuing those aims (on the other hand). For example, it's possible that economics does not ultimately aim to study psychology, but that nevertheless studying psychology is the best means for economics to achieve its ultimate aims. Indeed, in Paper 3 I defend revealed preference theory by defending the idea that economics does not ultimately aim to study agents' psychology. I show that this idea needn't be based on any discredited positivist or behaviourist doctrines. Nevertheless, in Paper 1 I argue that studying neuroscience and cognitive science may well be a reasonable means of pursuing economics ultimate aims, even though those aims are not psychological.
In Paper 7 I express dissatisfaction with how the whole mentalist vs behaviourist debate is typically framed. Firstly, there are three different ways in which an economic model can make psychological claims, I show:
It can make claims about the brain anatomy that "realizes" various cognitive processes.
It can make claims about the causes of various cognitive variables.
In can treat choice behaviour as intentional action.
So an economic model can make psychological claims in sense 3 but not in senses 1 and 2 for example. Thus there is room for positions that are part in the mentalist tradition and part in the behavioural tradition.
Paper 7 also criticises one the key varieties of mentalism, namely functionalism. Functionalism is profoundly ambiguous, I argue, because the notion of a cognitive variable is profoundly ambiguous. This ambiguity threatens to collapse functionalism into the behavioural view that economic models just describe input-output dispositions. What's more, functionalism makes some implausible commitments regarding the plasticity of agent's choice dispositions.
bottom of page