There Are No Desires in Economics

Homo Oeconomicus 31(4), 2014: 597-616

20 Pages Posted: 24 Jan 2015

See all articles by Manfred J. Holler

Manfred J. Holler

University of Hamburg - Faculty of Economics and Business Administration

Date Written: January 23, 2015


Modern economics is considered a theory of choice. This presupposes that the objectives (preferences on the alternatives) are given, well ordered, and finite. Desires do not always satisfy these requirements and therefore cannot be handled in this framework without some “editing.” In this paper, I will discuss the relationship of desires, preferences and choices and illustrate their relationship with reference to Sen’s Liberal Paradox. It will be argued that the mathematization of economics, as proposed by Jevons, and, more specifically the calculus of pleasure and pain, presupposes a focus on preferences and a neglect of desires. On the other hand, Marquis de Sade’s work implies a calculus of desires; emotions are absent in de Sade’s (rational) heroes. Parts of the paper derive from Holler (2013b).

Keywords: Preferences, choices, Sen’s Liberal Paradox, desires, wants, needs, calculus of desires, externalities, happiness.

JEL Classification: D01, D03, I31

Suggested Citation

Holler, Manfred J., There Are No Desires in Economics (January 23, 2015). Homo Oeconomicus 31(4), 2014: 597-616, Available at SSRN:

Manfred J. Holler (Contact Author)

University of Hamburg - Faculty of Economics and Business Administration ( email )

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