14.12. Uskali Mäki: Homo Economicus │ ReSES AD Lecture

Date: 14.12.2023
Time: 14:00 – 16:00 (Helsinki time)
Place: Metsätalo sali 1, University of Helsinki, Unioninkatu 40, 00170 Helsinki
Join via Zoom: https://helsinki.zoom.us/j/68186053557?pwd=TzJBWmcrMzY0MzUyUmxObFd1b2JZZz09 

Homo Economicus – Persona from the past with a bright future (even though perhaps gloomy for Homo Sapiens)? 

What is reasonable to assume about human behaviour and motivation in economics and the rest of social science? What is reasonable to assume about these things when designing institutions and doing policies? What kind of beings are we? What kind of beings do we want to be? Are these questions linked with one another? 

Selfish and greedy, informed and rationally calculative, competitive and strategically opportunistic, amoral and asocial. Those are among the characteristics that in different permutations and degrees of idealization have constituted the famous – both celebrated and challenged – social science persona, homo economicus. The arguments used for justifying and criticizing its various incarnations have varied and have seldom been sufficiently elaborate. I will examine some of these incarnations and arguments, providing missing elaborations. These deal with different roles that idealizations play in explaining different types of explananda, including individual behaviour and social patterns. One of these roles is homo economicus as a Weberian ideal type, popular in behavioural economics that sets out to explain deviations from this ideal. On top of treating homo economics as an explanatory ideal type, behavioural economics also tends to use (at least parts of) it as a normative ideal towards which people’s behaviour is to be nudged. In combination with wide-ranging incentive-based policies, does this contribute to pushing us towards closer approximations of homo economicus? Would homo sapiens be comfortable with such a future? The issues are, and have always been, multifarious, ranging from theoretical to empirical, philosophical to political. 

Speaker bio

Professor Uskali Mäki
Professor Emeritus, University of Helsinki

Uskali Mäki is professor emeritus of practical philosophy at the University of Helsinki, directing TINT – Centre for Philosophy of Social Science. In 1995-2006 he was Professor of Philosophy at the Erasmus University of Rotterdam in the Netherlands, directing EIPE [Erasmus Institute for Philosophy and Economics]. Professor Mäki served as an Academy Professor at the University of Helsinki from 2006 to 2011 and again from 2013 to 2017. During his tenure, he established TINT (Trends and Tensions in Intellectual Integration) as a prominent research center in the philosophy of the social sciences in 2006. Under his leadership, TINT secured Centre of Excellence funding from the Academy of Finland between 2012 and 2017. He is a former editor of the Journal of Economic Methodology (1995-2005), and former Chair of the International Network for Economic Method. He has held visiting positions at universities in Europe, North America, China and Africa, and he currently sits in the editorial boards of ten journals. His current research is mainly on the philosophy of economics and on models, scientific realism, interdisciplinarity, and social aspects of science.

Professor Mäki is a prolific author, credited with numerous influential articles in the philosophy of science and, notably, the philosophy of economics. His scholarly impact extends further through his role as an editor of many key collected volumes in the philosophy of economics, significantly shaping discourse in this field.

These books include Scientific Imperialism: Exploring the Boundaries of Interdisciplinarity (Routledge 2018); The Handbook of the Philosophy of Economics (Elsevier 2012); The Methodology of Positive Economics. The Milton Friedman Legacy (Cambridge University Press 2009); The Economic World View (Cambridge University Press 2002); and Fact and Fiction in Economics (Cambridge University Press 2001).  He has published in economics and philosophy journals such as Journal of Economic Literature,  Economics and Philosophy, Synthese, Studies in History and Philosophy of Science, Erkenntnis, Kyklos, Perspectives on Science, Journal of Economic Geography, History of Political Economy, Philosophy of the Social Sciences, Cambridge Journal of Economics.

Professor Mäki continues to actively contribute to academic discourse as the PI of the project “Economics as Serviceable Social Knowledge (ESSK): Philosophical Investigations into the Policy Relevance of Economics in Post-Pandemic Society.” Funded by the Academy of Finland, this project underscores his commitment to advancing our understanding of the social consequences of economics, particularly in the challenging context of multiple evolving crises.


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