Competing Conceptions of the Individual in Recent Economics

John B. Davis

in The Oxford Handbook of Philosophy of Economics

Published in print March 2009 | ISBN: 9780195189254
Published online September 2009 | e-ISBN: 9780199892105 | DOI:

Series: Oxford Handbooks in Philosophy

Competing Conceptions of the Individual in Recent Economics

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This article characterizes the Homo economicus conception in terms of three linked properties that are central to it as an atomist conception. On the standard view, individuals: have exogenous preferences; interact only (or almost only) in an indirect manner with one another through the price mechanism; and are unaffected in these two respects by the aggregate effects of their interaction with one another. The new research programs differ in how objectionable they find each of these properties, as befits their different commitments to synchronic or diachronic forms of explanation. Furthermore, this article reviews the role of synchronic and diachronic types of explanations in the possible emergence of a new general research program, discusses embedded individual microfoundations for that general program, and closes with speculations regarding the role of thinking about individuals in a future synthesis of the new research programs.

Keywords: Homo economicus conception; atomist conception; price mechanism; research programs

Article.  9859 words. 

Subjects: Philosophy of Science ; Social and Political Philosophy

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