Mentalism versus Behaviourism in Economics: A Philosophy-of-Science Perspective

Economics and Philosophy 32 (2):249-281 (2016)
Behaviourism is the view that preferences, beliefs, and other mental states in social-scientific theories are nothing but constructs re-describing people's behaviour. Mentalism is the view that they capture real phenomena, on a par with the unobservables in science, such as electrons and electromagnetic fields. While behaviourism has gone out of fashion in psychology, it remains influential in economics, especially in ‘revealed preference’ theory. We defend mentalism in economics, construed as a positive science, and show that it fits best scientific practice. We distinguish mentalism from, and reject, the radical neuroeconomic view that behaviour should be explained in terms of brain processes, as distinct from mental states.
Keywords Mentalism  Behaviourism  Revealed preference  Decision theory  Naturalism  Non-reductive physicalism  Neuroeconomics  Belief-desire models
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