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Mentalism versus behaviourism in economics: a philosophy-of-science perspective

Dietrich, Franz and List, Christian ORCID: 0000-0003-1627-800X (2016) Mentalism versus behaviourism in economics: a philosophy-of-science perspective. Economics and Philosophy, 32 (2). pp. 249-281. ISSN 0266-2671

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Identification Number: 10.1017/S0266267115000462


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.

Item Type: Article
Official URL:
Additional Information: © 2016 Cambridge University Press
Divisions: Government
Philosophy, Logic and Scientific Method
Subjects: B Philosophy. Psychology. Religion > B Philosophy (General)
H Social Sciences > H Social Sciences (General)
H Social Sciences > HB Economic Theory
Date Deposited: 24 Jun 2015 13:43
Last Modified: 26 Jun 2024 18:12
Projects: NR-12-INEG-0006-01
Funders: Ludwig Lachmann Fellowship, LSE, French Agence Nationale de la Recherche, Leverhulme Major Research Fellowship, Franco-Swedish Program in Philosophy and Economics

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