Economics and Philosophy

Essay

TWO STYLES OF NEUROECONOMICS

Don Rossa1

a1 University of Cape Town and University of Alabama at Birmingham

Abstract

I distinguish between two styles of research that are both called “neuroeconomics”. Neurocellular economics (NE) uses the modelling techniques and mathematics of economics – constrained maximization and equilibrium analysis – to model relatively encapsulated functional parts of brains. This approach rests upon the fact that brains are, like markets, massively distributed information-processing networks over which executive systems can exert only limited and imperfect governance. Harrison's (2008) deepest criticisms of neuroeconomics do not apply to NE. However, the more famous style of neuroeconomics is behavioural economics in the scanner. This is often motivated by complaints about conventional economics frequently heard from behavioural economists. It attempts to use neuroimaging data to justify arguments for replacing standard aspects of microeconomic theory by facts and conjectures about human psychology. Harrison's grounds for unease about neuroeconomics apply to most BES, or at least to its explicit methodology. This methodology is naively reductionist and illegitimately assumes that economics should not do what all successful science does, namely, model abstract aspects of its target phenomena instead of would-be complete and fully ecologically situated facsimiles of them.