The Elgar Companion To Economics and Philosophy
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The Elgar Companion To Economics and Philosophy

Edited by John B. Davis, Alain Marciano and Jochen Runde

The Elgar Companion to Economics and Philosophy aims to demonstrate exactly how these two important areas have always been linked, and to illustrate the key areas of overlap. The contributors are well-known and distinguished authors from a variety of disciplines, who have been invited both to survey and to provide a personal assessment of current and prospective future states of their respective areas of philosophical interest.
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Chapter 15: Methodological Individualism and Economics

Harold Kincaid


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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