“To navigate safely in the vast sea of empirical facts”: Ontology and methodology in behavioral economics

Synthese 192 (11):3557-3575 (2015)

Erik Angner
Stockholm University
This paper examines issues of ontology and methodology in behavioral economics: the attempt to increase the explanatory and predictive power of economic theory by providing it with more psychologically plausible foundations. Of special interest is the epistemological status of neoclassical economic theory within behavioral economics, the runaway success story of contemporary economics. Behavioral economists aspire to replace the fundamental assumptions of orthodox, neoclassical economic theory. Yet, behavioral economists have gone out of their way to praise those very assumptions. Matthew Rabin, for example, writes that behavioral economics “is not only built on the premise that [orthodox] economic methods are great, but also that most mainstream economic assumptions are great.” These apparently contradictory attitudes toward neoclassical theory raises the question of what, exactly, its epistemological status within behavioral economics is. This paper argues that the paradox can be resolved, and the question answered, by thinking of the epistemological status of neoclassical theory within behavioral economics in terms of Max Weber’s ideal types: analytical constructs that are not intended to be descriptively true of anything but which nevertheless can be used for a variety of theoretical purposes. The analysis is consistent with many of the insights from the philosophical literature on models in science and has important implications for the practice of economics—behavioral and neoclassical—as well as for the very nature of rationality
Keywords Ideal types  Rational-choice theory  Microeconomics  Behavioral economics  Max Weber
Categories (categorize this paper)
DOI 10.1007/s11229-014-0552-9
Edit this record
Mark as duplicate
Export citation
Find it on Scholar
Request removal from index
Revision history

Download options

Our Archive

Upload a copy of this paper     Check publisher's policy     Papers currently archived: 48,857
External links

Setup an account with your affiliations in order to access resources via your University's proxy server
Configure custom proxy (use this if your affiliation does not provide a proxy)
Through your library

References found in this work BETA

The Foundations of Statistics.Leonard J. Savage - 1954 - Wiley Publications in Statistics.
How Models Are Used to Represent Reality.Ronald N. Giere - 2004 - Philosophy of Science 71 (5):742-752.
Models and Fiction.Roman Frigg - 2010 - Synthese 172 (2):251-268.

View all 14 references / Add more references

Citations of this work BETA

We're All Behavioral Economists Now.Erik Angner - 2019 - Journal of Economic Methodology 26 (3):195-207.

View all 7 citations / Add more citations

Similar books and articles

The Future of Behavioral Game Theory.Herbert Gintis - 2011 - Mind and Society 10 (2):97-102.
Situational Analysis Beyond Neoclassical Economists.Lawrence A. Boland - 1998 - Philosophy of the Social Sciences 28 (4):515-521.
Models of Man: Neoclassical, Behavioural, and Evolutionary.Dennis C. Mueller - 2004 - Politics, Philosophy and Economics 3 (1):59-76.
Bounded Rationality in Social Sciences.Javier Echeverría & José Francisco Álvarez - 2008 - Poznan Studies in the Philosophy of the Sciences and the Humanities 96 (1):173-189.
Review Essay: Is Homo Economics Extinct?R. Sassower - 2010 - Philosophy of the Social Sciences 40 (4):603-615.


Added to PP index

Total views
39 ( #238,149 of 2,309,439 )

Recent downloads (6 months)
3 ( #355,170 of 2,309,439 )

How can I increase my downloads?


My notes

Sign in to use this feature