The Economics of Human Behavior: An Adaptationist Program?
Attempts to explain human behavior that appeal to economic rationality share many of the same ontological assumptions and methodological practices that the so-called ‘adaptationist program’ in biology was criticized for. This program in biology was largely abandoned by biologists as poorly motivated, and replaced with the active testing of both adaptive and non-adaptive hypotheses regarding the spread and maintenance of traits in populations. This development was largely welcome by the biological community, despite having required the development of new tools, both conceptual and methodological. Many analysts of contemporary microeconomic practice criticize the assumptions and practices employed therein as similarly poorly motivated. Close attention to these criticisms reveal them to have more than superficial similarities to the critiques of adaptationism in biology. These similarities extend to some macroeconomics researchers recent suggestions of ways that hypotheses regarding the causes of people’s actions might be tested; as yet, however, these suggestions have not been embraced by the field as a whole. By attending to the ways in which biological practice has moved beyond the adaptationist program, similar changes in economic practice may be motivated.
Keywords: Adaptationism, Behavior, Biology, Microeconomics, Rational Choice Theory
Associate Professor and Department Chair, Philosophy Department, Oregon State University