Seminar on History and Philosophy of Science

Monday, October 31, 2016
4:00pm to 5:00pm
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Dabney Hall 110 (Treasure Room)
Appreciation Problems of Neuroeconomics
Paul Hoyningen-Huene, Leibniz Universität Hannover, Institute of Philosophy, Professor Emeritus; Universität Zürich, Department of Economics, Lecturer,

Neuroeconomics is a new sub-discipline of economics. Its subject matter is the neuronal foundations of economic behavior. Many standard economists are critical of neuroeconomics; they doubt, partly in principle, that neuroeconomics is capable of contributing to the progress of economics proper. I will try to reconstruct and make plausible the main arguments of standard economists against neuroeconomics, mainly in positive economics. One argument claims that neuroeconomics is necessarily irrelevant to standard economics because of conceptually diverging goals of these two disciplines. Another argument claims that neuroeconomics is irrelevant to standard economics for empirical reasons.

Given these reservations of standard economists, I shall formulate five recommendations to neuroeconomists. First, neuroeconomists should realize that in standard microeconomics, predictions have a much higher status than causal explanations whereas in the neurosciences the reverse is true. Second, neuroeconomists should become clear whether they want to positively contribute to, or criticize and/or change, or simply don't care about standard economics. For these alternatives, different strategies are advisable. Third, if neuroeconomists want to positively contribute to standard economics, they should realize that their work may often be devaluated as merely heuristic if their results can be reproduced by methods of standard economics. In addition, neuroeconomics does often not contribute to standard or behavioral economics but rather exploits their results for neuroscientific purposes without any benefit for economics proper. Fourth, if neuroeconomists want to criticize and/or change standard economics, they should use the same strategies that behavioral economists successfully used in the preceding decades for the same purpose. Fifth, neuroeconomists who do not care about their influence upon standard economics can still gain high academic recognition.

In summary, neuroeconomics can gain greater appreciation within standard economics only if it can produce novel predictions of interesting economic behavior.

For more information, please contact Fran Tise by phone at 626-395-3609 or by email at ftise@hss.caltech.edu.