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Psychology and economics in historical perspective

Editors of special issue: Mikaël Cozic (Université Paris-Est Créteil Val de Marne and IHPST) and Jean-Sébastien Lenfant (Université Lille 1 and CES)

Deadline for submission: July 30th, 2015.

Planned publication of the issue: 2016.

“Psychology is evidently at the basis of political economy and, in general, of all the social sciences. A day will come when we will be able to deduce the laws of the social science from the principles of psychology” (Pareto, Manual of Political Economy, 1909, II, §1)

Over thirty years or so, an important part of economics has been oriented towards realizing Pareto’s prophecy that a day would come when economics and psychology would benefit from each other, opening the way for a better understanding of individual and collective behaviors. This ‘reconciliation’ comes after a period of time during which economics had developed its tools and principles away from psychology (or so the standard narrative argues), on the mere assumption that rational behavior could be described satisfactorily with a well-behaved utility function. For many economists, the offspring of this collective effort is called “behavioral economics”, and it is sometimes viewed a new paradigm in economics, providing tools and principles that may be applied to different fields of economic inquiry (finance, development economics, game theory, etc.).

Basics of behavioral economics are now part of any curricula in economics. The advent of behavioral economics has often been associated with a story-telling argument about its early development in the 1970s and its establishment, focusing on three main points: 1) the legitimization of experimental methods in economics; 2) the usefulness of concepts and ideas borrowed from psychology to increase the explanatory or predictive power of the theory of rational behavior; 3) the advent of a renewed view of human behavior and hence of new ideas in normative economics.

Actually, Pareto’s opening quotation reminds us also that psychology (in different guises) has been a fundamental issue for economists even since 18th century, if only because economists have usually grounded their own theory of economics on some ideas about human nature and motivations, especially on human desires and beliefs.

In recent years, historians of economic thought, philosophers and theoreticians have shown an interest in understanding the ins and outs of the behavioral turn in economics, and more broadly, on the introduction of psychological elements in economic explanations. Some have focused on recent history, enhancing the different trends of behavioral economics. Others have dealt with the nascent of behavioral economics and the early collaboration between economists and psychologists in the 1950s. Still some others have tried to understand how the marginalist school of thought had relied on the experimental psychology of its time—namely psychophysics—and how it had progressively been expelled out of the realm of economics, at least temporarily, with Pareto and Fisher. However, those contributions have not been coordinated and we are far from having a comprehensive overview of the complex history of the relationships between economics and psychology.

Œconomia – History / Methodology / Philosophy wishes to publish a special issue exploring the relationships between economics and psychology, gathering contributions from historians of economics and historians of psychology (including cognitive sciences), and also from historically-oriented researchers and philosophers of these disciplines. The overall ambition is to understand the way economics has dealt with psychological arguments, methods and concepts throughout history and to highlight the main debates between economists and psychologists that have fostered and are still fostering behavioral economics. It is hoped that these will pave the way for an overall vision of the history of the relationships between economics and psychology and of the methodological transformations of economics as a discipline.

The deadline for submitting is July 30th, 2015. Articles shall be submitted at:

Below is a non-exhaustive list of topics, authors and schools of thought:

  • Psychology in economics before the marginalist revolution (Hume, Smith, Condillac, Quesnay, James Mill, John Stuart Mill)

  • Psychophysics, psychology and the (pre)marginalists (Gossen, Jevons, Walras, Marshall, Edgeworth, Pareto and Fisher, psychology in the Austrian tradition)

  • Psychologists, economists, and the birth and development of experimental psychology (1850-1950)

  • Psychology in the institutionalist and Keynesian schools of thought (Veblen, Mitchell, J.M Clark, Keynes, Duesenberry, Post-Keynesian school).

  • How psychologists came to study decision and choice after World War II (Edwards, Davidson, Luce, Suppes, Siegel, etc).

  • The role and importance of ‘mathematical psychology’ and of the ‘representational theory of measurement’

  • Allais’s paradox and other decision paradoxes from the point of view of economics and psychology.

  • National traditions in the development of “economic psychology” (in relation with social psychology) and early behavioral economics in the USA (Katona, Simon), France, Germany, England, Italy, etc.

  • How psychologists have been involved in the development of behavioral economics and alternative paradigms to study economic behavior (e.g. Kahneman, Tversky, Slovic, Gigerenzer)?

  • Did economics borrow concepts and laws from psychology or did they rather borrow methods?

  • What has been the influence of behavioral sciences, marketing and business studies on the development of behavioral economics?

  • What have been the effects of behavioral economics on public policy? Did public policy foster the development of behavioral economics?

  • What have been the after effects of behavioral economics on the representation of utility and welfare? (Pigou, Boulding, Scitovsky, Easterlin, Happiness economics)

  • How has behavioral economics come into different fields of economics (finance, development economics, health economics, social choice, public economics, normative economics)?

  • The historical development of neuroeconomics and its links with psychology.

  • The role of normative considerations in the development of behavioral economics.

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