The Theory of the Individual in Economics: Identity and Value

The Theory of the Individual in Economics: Identity and Value

The Theory of the Individual in Economics: Identity and Value

The Theory of the Individual in Economics: Identity and Value


This new reader crosses the traditional boundaries of economics and will shed new light on the distinction between positive and normative analysis in economics. With both heterodox and orthodox economics receiving a thorough analysis from Davies, this book is at once inclusive and revealing.


[T]he real self is “extensionless”; it is nowhere but in this power to fix things as objects.

(Taylor 1989:172)

No entity without identity.

(Quine 1969:23)

This is a book about our understanding of the individual in economics. The concept of the individual is one of the most fundamental in contemporary society. It may even be the most fundamental of all our concepts. We cannot understand the historical evolution of political systems in terms of democracy, freedom, and human rights, the development of knowledge and science, and the quality and meaning of life without recognizing the centrality of the individual to our thinking. Human society could conceivably have developed differently in this regard. However, one thing we can know with certainty at this point in history is that individuality is a fundamental preoccupation of contemporary human society.

Yet in economics, with its tremendous influence on society, very little attention is given to the theory of the individual. The theory of the individual concerns our most basic assumptions regarding what explains individuality. Economics, in fact, takes the individual as given, and operates on the implicit assumption that one particular conception of the individual, indeed one of well-established lineage—the subjectivist view—successfully explains individuality. In this respect it is remarkably alone since, almost everywhere else in science, the humanities, the arts, and law, most believe this conception of the individual in economics to be naive. At the same time, it is difficult for those outside economics to say how individuals should be approached in economics, since the theory of individual choice—in which the understanding of the individual within economics is elaborated, and which economists generally regard as the centerpiece of scientific achievement in the field—places a forbidding array of technical issues in the way of any inquiry into the nature of individuals in economic life. Indeed, the theory of choice . . .

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