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Philosophy and economics, also philosophy of economics, studies topics such as rational choice, the appraisal of economic outcomes, institutions and processes, and the ontology of economic phenomena and the possibilities of acquiring knowledge of them.
Rational choice theory, also known as choice theory or rational action theory, is a framework for understanding and often formally modeling social and economic behavior. The basic premise of rational choice theory is that aggregate social behavior results from the behavior of individual actors, each of whom is making their individual decisions. The theory also focuses on the determinants of the individual choices. Rational choice theory then assumes that an individual has preferences among the available choice alternatives that allow them to state which option they prefer. These preferences are assumed to be complete and transitive. The rational agent is assumed to take account of available information, probabilities of events, and potential costs and benefits in determining preferences, and to act consistently in choosing the self-determined best choice of action.
Institutional economics focuses on understanding the role of the evolutionary process and the role of institutions in shaping economic behaviour. Its original focus lay in Thorstein Veblen's instinct-oriented dichotomy between technology on the one side and the "ceremonial" sphere of society on the other. Its name and core elements trace back to a 1919 American Economic Review article by Walton H. Hamilton. Institutional economics emphasizes a broader study of institutions and views markets as a result of the complex interaction of these various institutions. The earlier tradition continues today as a leading heterodox approach to economics.
Ontology is the philosophical study of being. More broadly, it studies concepts that directly relate to being, in particular becoming, existence, reality, as well as the basic categories of being and their relations. Traditionally listed as a part of the major branch of philosophy known as metaphysics, ontology often deals with questions concerning what entities exist or may be said to exist and how such entities may be grouped, related within a hierarchy, and subdivided according to similarities and differences.
It is useful to divide philosophy of economics in this way into three subject matters which can be regarded respectively as branches of action theory, ethics (or normative social and political philosophy), and philosophy of science. Economic theories of rationality, welfare, and social choice defend substantive philosophical theses often informed by relevant philosophical literature and of evident interest to those interested in action theory, philosophical psychology, and social and political philosophy.
Action theory is an area in philosophy concerned with theories about the processes causing willful human bodily movements of a more or less complex kind. This area of thought involves epistemology, ethics, metaphysics, jurisprudence, and philosophy of mind, and has attracted the strong interest of philosophers ever since Aristotle's Nicomachean Ethics. With the advent of psychology and later neuroscience, many theories of action are now subject to empirical testing.
Ethics or moral philosophy is a branch of philosophy that involves systematizing, defending, and recommending concepts of right and wrong conduct. The field of ethics, along with aesthetics, concerns matters of value, and thus comprises the branch of philosophy called axiology.
Philosophy of science is a sub-field of philosophy concerned with the foundations, methods, and implications of science. The central questions of this study concern what qualifies as science, the reliability of scientific theories, and the ultimate purpose of science. This discipline overlaps with metaphysics, ontology, and epistemology, for example, when it explores the relationship between science and truth. Philosophy of science focuses on metaphysical, epistemic and semantic aspects of science. Ethical issues such as bioethics and scientific misconduct are often considered ethics or science studies rather than philosophy of science.
Economics is of special interest to those interested in epistemology and philosophy of science both because of its detailed peculiarities and because it has many of the overt features of the natural sciences, while its object consists of social phenomena.
Economics is the social science that studies the production, distribution, and consumption of goods and services.
Epistemology is the branch of philosophy concerned with the theory of knowledge.
Natural science is a branch of science concerned with the description, prediction, and understanding of natural phenomena, based on empirical evidence from observation and experimentation. Mechanisms such as peer review and repeatability of findings are used to try to ensure the validity of scientific advances.
The question usually addressed in any subfield of philosophy (the philosophy of X) is "what is X?" A philosophical approach to the question "what is economics?" is less likely to produce an answer than it is to produce a survey of the definitional and territorial difficulties and controversies. Similar considerations apply as a prologue to further discussion of methodology in a subject. Definitions of economics have varied over time from the modern origins of the subject, reflecting programmatic concerns and distinctions of expositors.
Methodology is the systematic, theoretical analysis of the methods applied to a field of study. It comprises the theoretical analysis of the body of methods and principles associated with a branch of knowledge. Typically, it encompasses concepts such as paradigm, theoretical model, phases and quantitative or qualitative techniques.
Various definitions of 'economics' have been proposed, including the definition of 'economics' as "what economists do".
Ontological questions continue with further "what is..." questions addressed at fundamental economic phenomena, such as "what is (economic) value?" or "what is a market?". While it is possible to respond to such questions with real verbal definitions, the philosophical value of posing such questions actually aims at shifting entire perspectives as to the nature of the foundations of economics. In the rare cases that attempts at ontological shifts gain wide acceptance, their ripple effects can spread throughout the entire field of economics.
An epistemology deals with how we know things. In the philosophy of economics this means asking questions such as: what kind of a "truth claim" is made by economic theories – for example, are we claiming that the theories relate to reality or perceptions? How can or should we prove economic theories – for example, must every economic theory be empirically verifiable? How exact are economic theories and can they lay claim to the status of an exact science – for example, are economic predictions as reliable as predictions in the natural sciences, and why or why not? Another way of expressing this issue is to ask whether economic theories can state "laws". Philosophers of science and economists have explored these issues intensively since the work of Alexander Rosenberg and Daniel Hausman dating to 3 decades ago.
Truth is most often used to mean being in accord with fact or reality, or fidelity to an original or standard. Truth is also sometimes defined in modern contexts as an idea of "truth to self", or authenticity.
In metaphysics, realism about a given object is the view that this object exists in reality independently of our conceptual scheme. In philosophical terms, these objects are ontologically independent of someone's conceptual scheme, perceptions, linguistic practices, beliefs, etc.
Alexander Rosenberg is an American philosopher, and the R. Taylor Cole Professor of Philosophy at Duke University who now publishes as Alex Rosenberg.
Philosophical approaches in decision theory focus on foundational concepts in decision theory – for example, on the natures of choice or preference, rationality, risk and uncertainty, and economic agents.Game theory is shared between a number of disciplines, but especially mathematics, economics and philosophy. Game theory is still extensively discussed within the field of the philosophy of economics. Game theory is closely related to and builds on decision theory and is likewise very strongly interdisciplinary.
The ethics of economic systems deals with the issues such as how it is right (just, fair) to keep or distribute economic goods. Economic systems as a product of collective activity allow examination of their ethical consequences for all of their participants. Ethics and economics relates ethical studies to welfare economics.It has been argued that a closer relation between welfare economics and modern ethical studies may enrich both areas, even including predictive and descriptive economics as to rationality of behavior, given social interdependence.
Ethics and justice overlap disciplines in different ways. Approaches are regarded as more philosophical when they study the fundamentals – for example, John Rawls' A Theory of Justice (1971)and Robert Nozick's Anarchy, State and Utopia (1974). 'Justice' in economics is a subcategory of welfare economics with models frequently representing the ethical-social requirements of a given theory. "Practical" matters include such subjects as law and cost–benefit analysis
Utilitarianism, one of the ethical methodologies, has its origins inextricably interwoven with the emergence of modern economic thought. Today utilitarianism has spread throughout applied ethics as one of a number of approaches. Non-utilitarian approaches in applied ethics are also now used when questioning the ethics of economic systems – e.g. rights-based (deontological) approaches.
Many political ideologies have been an immediate outgrowth of reflection on the ethics of economic systems. Marx, for example, is generally regarded primarily as a philosopher, his most notable work being on the philosophy of economics. However, Marx's economic critique of capitalism did not depend on ethics, justice, or any form of morality, instead focusing on the inherent contradictions of capitalism through the lens of a process which is today called dialectical materialism.
The philosophy of economics defines itself as including the questioning of foundations or assumptions of economics. The foundations and assumption of economics have been questioned from the perspective of noteworthy but typically under-represented groups. These areas are therefore to be included within the philosophy of economics.
The ethics of economic systems is an area of overlap between business ethics and the philosophy of economics. People who write on the ethics of economic systems are more likely to call themselves political philosophers than business ethicists or economic philosophers. There is significant overlap between theoretical issues in economics and the philosophy of economics. As economics is generally accepted to have its origins in philosophy, the history of economics overlaps with the philosophy of economics.
Some universities offer joint degrees that combine philosophy, politics and economics. These degrees cover many of the problems that are discussed in Philosophy and Economics, but are more broadly construed. A small number of universities, notably the LSE, the Erasmus University Rotterdam, Copenhagen Business School and the University of Bayreuth offer master's degree programs specialized in philosophy and Economics.
Amartya Kumar Sen is an Indian economist and philosopher, who since 1972 has taught and worked in the United Kingdom and the United States. Sen has made contributions to welfare economics, social choice theory, economic and social justice, economic theories of famines, and measures of well-being of countries.
Monetary economics is the branch of economics that studies the different competing theories of money: it provides a framework for analyzing money and considers its functions, and it considers how money, for example fiat currency, can gain acceptance purely because of its convenience as a public good. The discipline has historically prefigured, and remains integrally linked to, macroeconomics. This branch also examines the effects of monetary systems, including regulation of money and associated financial institutions and international aspects.
Socioeconomics is the social science that studies how economic activity affects and is shaped by social processes. In general it analyzes how societies progress, stagnate, or regress because of their local or regional economy, or the global economy. Societies are divided into 3 groups: social, cultural and economic.
Managerial economics deals with the application of the economic concepts, theories, tools, and methodologies to solve practical problems in a business. In other words, managerial economics is the combination of economics theory and managerial theory. It helps the manager in decision-making and acts as a link between practice and theory. It is sometimes referred to as business economics and is a branch of economics that applies microeconomic analysis to decision methods of businesses or other management units.
Positive economics is the branch of economics that concerns the description and explanation of economic phenomena. It focuses on facts and cause-and-effect behavioral relationships and includes the development and testing of economic theories. An earlier term was value-free economics.
Normative economics is a part of economics that expresses value or normative judgments about economic fairness or what the outcome of the economy or goals of public policy ought to be.
Experimental economics is the application of experimental methods to study economic questions. Data collected in experiments are used to estimate effect size, test the validity of economic theories, and illuminate market mechanisms. Economic experiments usually use cash to motivate subjects, in order to mimic real-world incentives. Experiments are used to help understand how and why markets and other exchange systems function as they do. Experimental economics have also expanded to understand institutions and the law.
Information economics or the economics of information is a branch of microeconomic theory that studies how information and information systems affect an economy and economic decisions. Information has special characteristics: It is easy to create but hard to trust. It is easy to spread but hard to control. It influences many decisions. These special characteristics complicate many standard economic theories.
Equity or economic equality is the concept or idea of fairness in economics, particularly in regard to taxation or welfare economics. More specifically, it may refer to equal life chances regardless of identity, to provide all citizens with a basic and equal minimum of income, goods, and services or to increase funds and commitment for redistribution.
Computational economics is a research discipline at the interface of computer science, economics, and management science. This subject encompasses computational modeling of economic systems, whether agent-based, general-equilibrium, macroeconomic, or rational-expectations, computational econometrics and statistics, computational finance, computational tools for the design of automated internet markets, programming tool specifically designed for computational economics and the teaching of computational economics. Some of these areas are unique, while others extend traditional areas of economics by solving problems that are tedious to study without computers and associated numerical methods.
Social choice theory or social choice is a theoretical framework for analysis of combining individual opinions, preferences, interests, or welfares to reach a collective decision or social welfare in some sense. A non-theoretical example of a collective decision is enacting a law or set of laws under a constitution. Social choice theory dates from Condorcet's formulation of the voting paradox. Kenneth Arrow's Social Choice and Individual Values (1951) and Arrow's impossibility theorem in it are generally acknowledged as the basis of the modern social choice theory. In addition to Arrow's theorem and the voting paradox, the Gibbard–Satterthwaite theorem, the Condorcet jury theorem, the median voter theorem, and May's theorem are among the more well known results from social choice theory.
Economic methodology is the study of methods, especially the scientific method, in relation to economics, including principles underlying economic reasoning. In contemporary English, 'methodology' may reference theoretical or systematic aspects of a method. Philosophy and economics also takes up methodology at the intersection of the two subjects.
Milton Friedman's book Essays in Positive Economics (1953) is a collection of earlier articles by the author with as its lead an original essay "The Methodology of Positive Economics." This essay posits Friedman's famous, but controversial, principle that assumptions need not be "realistic" to serve as scientific hypotheses; they merely need to make significant predictions.
Lionel Robbins' Essay sought to define more precisely economics as a science and to derive substantive implications. Analysis is relative to "accepted solutions of particular problems" based on best modern practice as referenced, especially including the works of Philip Wicksteed, Ludwig von Mises, and other Continental European economists. Robbins disclaims originality but expresses hope to have given expository force on a very few points to some principles "not always clearly stated"
Economics imperialism in contemporary economics is the economic analysis of seemingly non-economic aspects of life, such as crime, law, the family, prejudice, tastes, irrational behavior, politics, sociology, culture, religion, war, science, and research. Related usage of the term goes back as far as the 1930s.
Justice in economics is a subcategory of welfare economics with models frequently representing the ethical-social requirements of a given theory, whether "in the large", as of a just social order, or "in the small", as in the equity of "how institutions distribute specific benefits and burdens". That theory may or may not elicit acceptance. In the Journal of Economic Literature classification codes 'justice' is scrolled to at JEL: D63, wedged on the same line between 'Equity' and 'Inequality' along with 'Other Normative Criteria and Measurement'. Categories above and below the line are Externalities and Altruism.
Agent-based computational economics (ACE) is the area of computational economics that studies economic processes, including whole economies, as dynamic systems of interacting agents. As such, it falls in the paradigm of complex adaptive systems. In corresponding agent-based models, the "agents" are "computational objects modeled as interacting according to rules" over space and time, not real people. The rules are formulated to model behavior and social interactions based on incentives and information. Such rules could also be the result of optimization, realized through use of AI methods.
An economic ideology distinguishes itself from economic theory in being normative rather than just explanatory in its approach. Economic ideologies express perspectives on the way an economy should run and to what end, whereas the aim of economic theories is to create accurate explanatory models to describe how an economy currently functions. However, the two are closely interrelated, as underlying economic ideology influences the methodology and theory employed in analysis. The diverse ideology and methodology of the 74 Nobel laureates in economics speaks to such interrelation.
Mathematical economics is the application of mathematical methods to represent theories and analyze problems in economics. By convention, these applied methods are beyond simple geometry, such as differential and integral calculus, difference and differential equations, matrix algebra, mathematical programming, and other computational methods. Proponents of this approach claim that it allows the formulation of theoretical relationships with rigor, generality, and simplicity.
Daniel M. Hausman is an American philosopher. His research has focussed primarily on methodological, metaphysical, and ethical issues at the boundaries between economics and philosophy. He is currently Herbert A. Simon Professor in the Department of Philosophy at the University of Wisconsin–Madison.