"Homo Economicus" and G. H. Mead
David Wilson and
American Journal of Economics and Sociology, 2008, vol. 67, issue 2, pages 241-263
The relation between economic behavior and morality remains a live issue within economics and cognate disciplines. The standard view among economists themselves has been that while moral positions (understood broadly) may "motivate" our behavior, they do not "capacitate" or "enable" it. On this view the figure of "Homo economicus", representing the "how" as against the "why" of our actions, must be understood as resolutely amoral. In this article, we attempt to recover the logic of this position, as well as those of critics who would modify the standard view in some way. Although also critical of the conventional economics-and-ethics divide, we argue that "Homo economicus" would benefit from a more fundamental rethinking, one that takes account of the theory of the self and its acts, as developed by the social psychologist G. H. Mead. On a Meadian view the economic actor would neither have to grow additional capacities in order to coordinate with his or her fellows, as the evolutionary games theorist's agent has to do, nor "depart" or "deviate" from purposeful behavior, as does "Homo sociologicus". On a Meadian view, economic capacity has to be more richly endowed than standard "Homo economicus" in order to do what it is supposed to do, but it is recognizably still a single, purposeful capacity. Copyright © 2008 American Journal of Economics and Sociology, Inc..
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