Edited by John B. Davis, Alain Marciano and Jochen Runde
Chapter 15: Methodological Individualism and Economics
Harold Kincaid Individualism is a broad concept that resonates throughout economics. My goal here is to ﬁrst sort out the many different ideas at work and then to make some progress in assessing them. Two initial clariﬁcations are in order. First, individualism has both normative and descriptive components. No doubt in practice these two components are often fused and no doubt the normative concepts help motivate the descriptive. The root intuition behind normative individualism--that justice and dessert are honored so long as social arrangements result from free human choices-is powerful and surely inspires the methodological thought that economics should explain via the choices of individuals. Nonetheless, the normative and methodological claims are logically independent. It is the latter that are explicitly involved in economic explanations and are my prime target. Second, on my view the different theses of methodological individualism turn ultimately on empirical issues, often in quite speciﬁc ways. Consequently assessing individualism cannot be done completely without invoking speciﬁc issues in economics itself. These empirical issues will emerge naturally as we spell out different individualist claims. The chapter proceeds as follows. Section I clariﬁes various individualist theses and their interrelations. Sections II, III, IV and V then assess in detail individualism as a claim about ontology, reduction, explanation, and research strategies respectively. Theses There are various colloquial slogans that express the general individualist position. Society is nothing but individuals. Only individuals are actors in the social world. Nothing comes about except through the actions of...
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