The experimental approach in economics is a driving force behind some of the most exciting developments in the field. The 'experimental revolution' was based on a series of bold philosophical premises which have remained until now mostly unexplored. This book provides the first comprehensive analysis and critical discussion of the methodology of experimental economics, written by a philosopher of science with expertise in the field. It outlines the fundamental principles of experimental inference in order to investigate their power, scope and (...) limitations. The author demonstrates that experimental economists have a lot to gain by discussing openly the philosophical principles that guide their work, and that philosophers of science have a lot to learn from their ingenious techniques devised by experimenters in order to tackle difficult scientific problems. (shrink)
Strong Reciprocity theorists claim that cooperation in social dilemma games can be sustained by costly punishment mechanisms that eliminate incentives to free ride, even in one-shot and finitely repeated games. There is little doubt that costly punishment raises cooperation in laboratory conditions. Its efficacy in the field however is controversial. I distinguish two interpretations of experimental results, and show that the wide interpretation endorsed by Strong Reciprocity theorists is unsupported by ethnographic evidence on decentralised punishment and by historical evidence on (...) common pool institutions. The institutions that spontaneously evolve to solve dilemmas of cooperation typically exploit low-cost mechanisms, turning finite games into indefinitely repeated ones and eliminating the cost of sanctioning. (shrink)
Current debates in social ontology are dominated by approaches that view institutions either as rules or as equilibria of strategic games. We argue that these two approaches can be unified within an encompassing theory based on the notion of correlated equilibrium. We show that in a correlated equilibrium each player follows a regulative rule of the form ‘if X then do Y’. We then criticize Searle's claim that constitutive rules of the form ‘X counts as Y in C’ are fundamental (...) building blocks for institutions, showing that such rules can be derived from regulative rules by introducing new institutional terms. Institutional terms are introduced for economy of thought, but are not necessary for the creation of social reality. (shrink)
Recent debates on the nature of preferences in economics have typically assumed that they are to be interpreted either as behavioural regularities or as mental states. In this paper I challenge this dichotomy and argue that neither interpretation is consistent with scientific practice in choice theory and behavioural economics. Preferences are belief-dependent dispositions with a multiply realizable causal basis, which explains why economists are reluctant to make a commitment about their interpretation.
Experimental “localism” stresses the importance of context‐specific knowledge, and the limitations of universal theories in science. I illustrate Latour's radical approach to localism and show that it has some unpalatable consequences, in particular the suggestion that problems of external validity (or how to generalize experimental results to nonlaboratory circumstances) cannot be solved. In the last part of the paper I try to sketch a solution to the problem of external validity by extending Mayo's error‐probabilistic approach.
Thaler and Sunstein justify nudge policies from welfaristic premises: nudges are acceptable because they benefit the individuals who are nudged. A tacit assumption behind this strategy is that we can identify the true preferences of decision-makers. We argue that this assumption is often unwarranted, and that as a consequence nudge policies must be justified in a different way. A possible strategy is to abandon welfarism and endorse genuine paternalism. Another one is to argue that the biases of decision that choice (...) architects attempt to eliminate create externalities. For example, in the case of intertemporal discounting, the costs of preference reversals are not always paid by the discounters, because they are transferred onto other individuals. But if this is the case, then nudges are best justified from a political rather than welfaristic standpoint. (shrink)
The answer in a nutshell is: Yes, five years ago, but nobody has noticed. Nobody noticed because the majority of social scientists subscribe to one of the following views: (1) the ‘anomalous’ behaviour observed in standard prisoner’s dilemma or ultimatum game experiments has refuted standard game theory a long time ago; (2) game theory is flexible enough to accommodate any observed choices by ‘refining’ players’ preferences; or (3) it is just a piece of pure mathematics (a tautology). None of these (...) views is correct. This paper defends the view that GT as commonly understood is not a tautology, that it suffers from important (albeit very recently discovered) empirical anomalies, and that it is not flexible enough to accommodate all the anomalies in its theoretical framework. It also discusses the experiments that finally refuted game theory, and concludes trying to explain why it took so long for experimental game theorists to design experiments that could adequately test the theory. (shrink)
Institutions generate cooperative benefits that explain why they exist and persist. Therefore, their etiological function is to promote cooperation. The function of a particular institution, such as money or traffic regulations, is to solve one or more cooperation problems. We go on to argue that the teleological function of institutions is to secure values by means of norms. Values can also be used to redesign an institution and to promote social change. We argue, however, that an adequate theory of institutions (...) should not be ‘moralized’ in that they should not be defined in terms of the values they are supposed to promote. (shrink)
David Lewis famously proposed to model conventions as solutions to coordination games, where equilibrium selection is driven by precedence, or the history of play. A characteristic feature of Lewis Conventions is that they are intrinsically non-normative. Some philosophers have argued that for this reason they miss a crucial aspect of our folk notion of convention. It is doubtful however that Lewis was merely analysing a folk concept. I illustrate how his theory can (and must) be assessed using empirical data, and (...) argue that it does indeed miss an important aspect of real-world conventions. (shrink)
The Ultimatum Game is one of the most successful experimental designs in the history of the social sciences. In this article I try to explain this success—what makes it a “paradigmatic experiment”—stressing in particular its versatility. Despite the intentions of its inventors, the Ultimatum Game was never a good design to test economic theory, and it is now mostly used as a heuristic tool for the observation of nonstandard preferences or as a “social thermometer” for the observation of culture‐specific norms. (...) †To contact the author, please write to: Department of Sociology and Philosophy, University of Exeter, Amory Building, Exeter EX4 4DT, UK; e‐mail: email@example.com. (shrink)
External validity is the problem of generalizing results from laboratory to non?laboratory conditions. In this paper we review various ways in which the problem can be tackled, depending on the kind of experiment one is doing. Using a concrete example, we highlight in particular the distinction between external validity and robustness, and point out that many experiments are not aimed at a well?specified real?world target but rather contribute to a ?library of robust phenomena?, a body of experimental knowledge to be (...) applied case by case. (shrink)
The auctions of the Federal Communication Commission, designed in 1994 to sell spectrum licences, are one of the few widely acclaimed and copied cases of economic engineering to date. This paper includes a detailed narrative of the process of designing, testing and implementing the FCC auctions, focusing in particular on the role played by game theoretical modelling and laboratory experimentation. Some general remarks about the scope, interpretation and use of rational choice models open and conclude the paper.
The paper investigates how normative considerations influenced the development of the theory of individual decision-making under risk. In the first part, the debate between Maurice Allais and the 'Neo-Bernoullians' (supporting the Expected Utility model) is reconstructed, in order to show that a controversy on the definition of rational decision and on the methodology of normative justification played a crucial role in legitimizing the Allais-paradox as genuinely refuting evidence. In the second part, it is shown how informal notions of rationality were (...) among the tacit heuristic principles that led to the discovery of generalized models of decision put forward in the early eighties to replace the received model. (shrink)
This article is in three parts: in the first section, a real case of laboratory experimentation in economics illustrates what experimentalists do in order to test the external validity of their results. Then, it is shown that such a practice presupposes a specific conception of the causal relations economists are seeking. Some general remarks about the notions of external validity and parallelism are provided in conclusion.
Understanding Institutions offers a theory that is able to unify the two dominant approaches in the scientific and philosophical literature on institutions. Moreover, using the ‘rules-in-equilibrium’ theory, it tackles several ancient puzzles in the philosophy of social science.
Controversies in economics often fizzle out unresolved. One reason is that, despite their professed empiricism, economists find it hard to agree on the interpretation of the relevant empirical evidence. In this paper I will present an example of a controversial issue first raised and then solved by recourse to laboratory experimentation. A major theme of this paper, then, concerns the methodological advantages of controlled experiments. The second theme is the nature of experimental artefacts and of the methods devised to detect (...) them. Recent studies of experimental science have stressed that experimenters are often merely concerned about determining whether a certain phenomeonon exists or not, or whether, when, and where it can be produced, without necessarily engaging in proving or disproving any theoretical explanation of the phenomenon itself. In this paper I shall be concerned mainly with such a case, and focus on the example of preference reversals, a phenomenon whose existence was until quite recently denied by the majority of economists. Their favourite strategy consisted in trying to explain the phenomenon away as an artefact of the experimental techniques used to observe it. By controlled experimentation, as we shall see, such an interpretation has been discredited, and now preference reversals are generally accepted as real. The problem of distinguishing an artefact from a real phenomenon is related to methodological issues traditionally discussed by philosophers of science, such as the theory-ladenness of observation and Duhem's problem. Part of this paper is devoted to clarifying these two philosophical problems, and to arguing that only the latter is relevant to the case in hand. The solutions to Duhem's problem devised by economic experimentalists will be presented and discussed. I shall show that they belong in two broad categories: independent tests of new predictions derived from the competing hypotheses at stake, and ‘no- miracle arguments’ from different experimental techniques delivering converging results despite their being theoretically independent. (shrink)
The title of this book is rather misleading. “Birth of neoliberal governmentality,” or something like that, would have been more faithful to its contents. In Foucault's vocabulary, “biopolitics” is the “rationalisation” of “governmentality” : it's the theory, in other words, as opposed to the art of managing people. The mismatch between title and content is easily explained: the general theme of the courses at the Collège de France had to be announced at the beginning of each academic year. It is (...) part of the mandate of every professor at the Collège, however, that his lectures should follow closely his current research. As a consequence it wasn't unusual for Foucault to take new directions while he was lecturing. In 1979, for the first and only time in his career, he took a diversion into contemporary political philosophy. His principal object of investigation became “neoliberal” political economy. More precisely, he got increasingly interested in those strands of contemporary liberalism that use economic science both as a principle of limitation and of inspiration for the management of people. (shrink)
A series of recent debates in experimental economics have associated demand effects with the artificiality of the experimental setting and have linked it to the problem of external validity. In this paper, we argue that these associations can be misleading, partly because of the ambiguity with which “artificiality” has been defined, but also because demand effects and external validity are related in complex ways. We argue that artificiality may be directly as well as inversely correlated with demand effects. We also (...) distinguish between the demand effects of experimentation and the reactions that they may trigger and that might endanger experimental validity. We conclude that economists should pay more attention to the way in which subjects construe the experimental task and learn to exploit subjects’ reactivity to expectations in their experiments. (shrink)
Strong reciprocity theorists claim that punishment has evolved to promote the good of the group and to deter cheating. By contrast, weak reciprocity suggests that punishment aims to restore justice (i.e., reciprocity) between the criminal and his victim. Experimental evidences as well as field observations suggest that humans punish criminals to restore fairness rather than to support group cooperation.
While admirable, Guala's discussion of reciprocity suffers from a confusion between proximate causes (psychological mechanisms triggering behaviour) and ultimate causes (evolved function of those psychological mechanisms). Because much work on commits this error, I clarify the difference between proximate and ultimate causes of cooperation and punishment. I also caution against hasty rejections of of experimental evidence.
Two important arguments in the methodological literature on experimental economics rely on the specification of a domain for economic theory. The first one is used by some experimenters in their skirmishes with economic theorists, and moves from the assumption that theories have (or ought to have) their domain of application written in their assumptions. The other one is used to play down the relevance of certain unwelcome experimental results, and moves from the symmetric assumption that the domain of economic theory (...) is more limited than a literal reading of its assumptions would suggest. Of course, only one of them can be right. In this paper I criticise the former, and outline some well?known arguments that strongly point in the direction of the incompleteness of economic theory. Some remarks on the role of methodological arguments conclude the paper. (shrink)
David Lewis famously proposed to model conventions as solutions to coordination games, where equilibrium selection is driven by precedence, or the history of play. A characteristic feature of Lewis Conventions is that they are intrinsically nonnormative. Some philosophers have argued that for this reason they miss a crucial aspect of our folk notion of convention. It is doubtful however that Lewis was merely analysing a folk concept. I illustrate how his theory can (and must) be assessed using empirical data, and (...) argue that it does indeed miss some important aspects of real-world conventions. I conclude that whether Lewis Conventions exist or not depends on how closely they approximate real-world behaviour, and whether we have any alternative theory that does a better job at explaining the phenomena. (shrink)
This is a slightly longer version of an entry prepared for the 2nd edition of The New Palgrave Dictionary of Economics, edited by Steven Durlauf and Lawrence Blume (Palgrave-Macmillan, forthcoming). Since the New Palgrave does not include acknowledgments, I should use this chance to thank Roger Backhouse, Philippe Fontaine, Daniel Kahneman, Kyu Sang Lee, Ivan Moscati, and Vernon Smith for their help and suggestions in preparing this paper.
Ontology is one of today’s buzzwords. It is back in fashion in analytical philosophy and Artificial Intelligence, and major projects and research centres get funding around the world (cf. e.g. the Buffalo Centre for Ontological Research, the Laboratory for Ontology in Turin, the Institute for Formal Ontology and Medical Information Science in Saarland). In the philosophy of science ontology has arguably always been a key area of research, under the guise of ‘The foundations of __’ (physics, biology, chemistry, etc.). Economics (...) however is an exception. Because of economics’ hybrid status, philosophers’ interest in its foundations has traditionally focused on normative issues – typically the theory of rationality that lies at the core of the neoclassical paradigm. What is relatively new, then, 1 is the current growth of interest for the metaphysics of economics as a descriptive scientific discipline (see e.g. Mäki, ed. 2001). (shrink)
Mutualistic theory explains convincingly the prevalence of fairness norms in small societies of foragers and in large contemporary democratic societies. However, it cannot explain the U-shaped curve of egalitarianism in human history. A theory based on bargaining power is able to provide a more general account and to explain mutualism as a special case. According to this approach, social norms may be more variable and malleable than Baumard et al. suggest.
Clear-cut designs have a number of methodological virtues, with respect to internal and external validity, which I illustrate by means of informal causal analysis. In contrast, a more uniform experimental practice across disciplines may not lead to progress if causal relations in the human sciences are highly dependent on the details of the context.
The disagreement between Binmore and the “behaviouralists” concerns mainly the kind of reciprocity mechanisms that sustain cooperation in and out of the experimental laboratory. Although Binmore’s scepticism concerning Strong Reciprocity is justified, his case for Weak Reciprocity and the long-run convergence to Nash equilibria is unsupported by laboratory evidence. Part of the reason is that laboratory evidence alone cannot solve the reciprocity controversy, and researchers should pay more attention to field data. As an example, I briefly illustrate a historical case (...) suggesting that the institutions that foster cooperation in the real world rely on Weak Reciprocity mechanisms such as those that feature prominently in Binmore’s story. (shrink)
Laboratory experimentation was once considered impossible or irrelevant in economics. Recently, however, economic science has gone through a real ‘laboratory revolution’, and experimental economics is now a most lively subfield of the discipline. The methodological advantages and disadvantages of controlled experimentation constitute the main subject of this thesis. After a survey of the literature on experiments in philosophy and economics, the problem of testing normative theories of rationality is tackled. This philosophical issue was at the centre of a famous controversy (...) in decision theory, during which a methodology of normative falsification was first articulated and used to assess experimental results. In the third chapter, the methodological advantages of controlled experimentation are illustrated and discussed with examples taken from the experiments on the so-called ‘preference reversal’ phenomenon. Laboratory testing allows to establish with a high degree of certainty that certain phenomena lie behind the experimental data, by means of independent testing, elimination of alternative hypotheses, and the use of different instruments of observation. The fourth chapter is devoted to a conceptual analysis of the problem of ‘parallelism’. This is the problem of inferring from the occurrence of a phenomenon in the laboratory, to its instantiation also in non-laboratory environments. Experimental economists have discussed parallelism at length, and their views are presented and criticised. Eventually, it is argued that parallelism is a factual matter and as such can only be established on empirical grounds. The fifth chapter provides an example of how one can argue for parallelism, focusing on the case of experimentation on the ‘winner’s curse’ phenomenon. The role of experiments as ‘mediators’ between theoretical models and their target domain of application is illustrated, and the structure of parallelism arguments analysed in detail. Finally, in the last chapter, economic experiments are compared to simulations, in order to highlight their specific characteristics. (shrink)