Chapter 2: Economics and Anthropology – Reluctant Partners
2.1 INTRODUCTION The integrated social science perspective set out in this book is based on an extension of the concept of rational action from its traditional domain of economics to the entire ﬁeld of social science. However, extending the domain of the rational action principle is not the only way of constructing an integrated social science. Some social scientists take the opposite point of view: they believe that the proper way to integrate the social sciences is explicitly to reject the rational action approach that underpins economics and, instead, to analyse the economic aspects of social behaviour entirely from a non-rational action perspective. Social anthropology exempliﬁes this alternative approach: several noted anthropologists have declared their ambition to create an integrated social science on a basis of non-rational action. Anthropologists claim to study humankind as a whole, and so, if their claims are taken at face value, their subject subsumes the entire ﬁeld of economics as a special case. A comparison of economics and anthropology is therefore instructive in contrasting two alternative approaches to the integration of the social sciences, one based on the rational action approach, and the other not. The rational action approach is logically transparent, and much more versatile than many of its critics believe. This chapter argues that the rational action approach is perfectly adequate to explain the way people behave in a wide variety of situations. The non-rational action approach may be better at explaining people’s feelings about the way they act, and hence at...
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