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What Preferences Really Are

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  01 January 2022


Daniel M. Hausman holds that preferences in economics are total subjective comparative evaluations—subjective judgments to the effect that something is better than something else all things told—and that economists are right to employ this conception of preference. Here, I argue against both parts of Hausman’s thesis. The failure of Hausman’s account, I continue, reflects a deeper problem, that is, that preferences in economics do not need an explicit definition of the kind that he seeks. Nonetheless, Hausman’s labors were not in vain: his accomplishment is that he has articulated a useful model of the theory.

Research Article
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Previous versions were read at the 2016 Philosophy of Science Association meetings in Atlanta, the 2017 European Philosophy of Science Association meetings in Exeter, and seminars at Stockholm University, Aarhus University, and KTH Royal Institute of Technology in Stockholm. I am grateful to the participants—especially Lawrence Boland, Philip Kitcher, and Victor Moberger—for thoughtful feedback; to Marc Berman and Katherine Kinzler for taking the time to discuss the cognitive science; and to Francesco Guala, Daniel Hausman, Mats Ingelström, Aki Lehtinen, Ivan Moscati, Michiru Nagatsu, Robert Östling, Daniel Ramöller, Raffaele Rodogno, and three anonymous referees for helpful comments on earlier drafts. Errors, as always, remain my own. This project is sponsored in part by two John Templeton Foundation grants, titled “Virtue, Happiness, and the Meaning of Life” and “Happiness and Well-Being: Integrating Research across the Disciplines.”


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