Does Homo Economicus Have a Will?

Barbara Montero, Mark D. White, ECONOMICS AND THE MIND, pp. 143-158, London: Routledge, 2007

24 Pages Posted: 3 Oct 2008

See all articles by Mark D. White

Mark D. White

CUNY College of Staten Island

Date Written: March 30, 2006


Economics is often described as the science of choice, but the typical economic agent in fact has no choice - his decisions are made for him by his preferences and constraints. This may be sufficient for normative purposes, demonstrating how agents "should" make choices if they want to adhere to the economic conception of instrumental rationality and maximize their utility or degree of preference satisfaction. But it has little connection to how real persons make decisions, for we like to believe that, given all of the information at our disposal, we have true, free choice. We can make the "right" choice, or we can make the "wrong" one. We can let principles and commitments reign over our most intensely-felt preferences, sometimes choosing to endure great sacrifice for our beliefs, or we can succumb to our basest temptations, even ones that our judgment clearly counsels against.

To support such free choice, some would say that each of us has a will, a distinct faculty of choice that operates between judgment and action, and can either follow the dictates of one's best judgment or not. In this chapter I suggest a way to incorporate a meaningful conception of the will into the economic model of decision-making, relying on recent work by philosophers such as John Searle and R. Jay Wallace, who themselves question the standard models of choice in philosophy. I further develop a basic model that I introduced in several other papers that can help understand fallibility in choice, such as succumbing to temptation, as well as resisting it. I offer a descriptions of how one's character or strength of will changes as temptations are confronted (successfully or not). I compare my approach to others offered in the literature, and I conclude with suggestions for future applications of my basic framework.

Keywords: choice, will, John Searrle, Immanuel Kant, character

Suggested Citation

White, Mark D., Does Homo Economicus Have a Will? (March 30, 2006). Barbara Montero, Mark D. White, ECONOMICS AND THE MIND, pp. 143-158, London: Routledge, 2007 , Available at SSRN:

Mark D. White (Contact Author)

CUNY College of Staten Island ( email )

Staten Island, NY
United States

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