The Economic Agent: Not Human, But Important
ELSEVIER HANDBOOK OF PHILOSOPHY OF SCIENCE, VOLUME 13: ECONOMICS, pp. 627-671, U. Maki, ed., 2010
47 Pages Posted: 23 May 2010 Last revised: 17 Jun 2010
Date Written: March 1, 2010
The paper reviews the standard concept of the economic agent as featured in contemporary microeconomics, showing why the practice of economists does not equate this agent to a person, and why economists’ longstanding interests in ‘individualism’ and ‘microfoundations’ should not be interpreted as suggesting otherwise. This provides the basis of an account of how economists should respond to widespread criticisms reflecting normative phenomenalism, the view that ‘good’ scientific conceptual frameworks should describe manifest phenomena. The paper then discusses why and how (some) behavioral economists propose to modify agency in light of studies of people, in cases where normative phenomenalism is not assumed. This proposal is resisted on the basis of an argument against the view held by increasingly many behavioral economists that their program collapses into the ambition of the new ‘neuroeconomics’ to identify and explain the processes by which brains comparatively value actual and prospective rewards. The paper argues that what it dubs ‘neurocellular economics’, the programme of research initiated by Paul Glimcher, some of his NYU-based colleagues, and his current and former students, is importantly different in its implicit attitude to standard economic agency from a more reductionist version of neuroeconomics that has lately been stapled to BE in would-be service of a paradigm shift. Having explained why neurocellular economics preserves rather than challenges the standard concept of economic agency, the paper defends the continued use of that concept against calls for its replacement by objects and processes identified through psychological and neuroscientific observation.
Keywords: economic agency, psychology, neuroeconomics
JEL Classification: A10, A12, B21, B40, D01, D03, D87
Suggested Citation: Suggested Citation