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Economics, Neuroeconomics, and the Problem of Identity

Davis, John B.

Journal of Contextual Economics – Schmollers Jahrbuch, Vol. 136 (2016), Iss. 1: pp. 15–31

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Department of Economics, Marquette University, PO Box 1881, Milwaukee, WI 53201 and Amsterdam School of Economics, University of Amsterdam, Valckenierstraat 65 – 67, 1018 XE Amsterdam, Netherlands


This paper reviews the debate in economics over neuroeconomics’ contribution to economics. It distinguishes majority and minority views, argues that this debate has been framed by mainstream economics’ conception of itself as an isolated science, and argues that this framing has put off the agenda in economics issues such as individual identity that are increasingly important in connection with the social and historical context of economic explanations in a changing complex world. The paper first discusses how the debate over neuroeconomics has been limited to the question of what information from other sciences might be employed in economics. It then goes on to the individual identity issue, and discusses how economics’ top-down, closed character generates a circular individual identity conception, while bottom-up, open character of psychology and neuroscience, and their continual concern with the changing relation between theory and evidence, has produced four competing individual identity conceptions in neuroeconomic research.

JEL Codes: A12, B41, D03, D87