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Against Reductionist Explanations of Human Behaviour

John Dupré and John O'Neill
Proceedings of the Aristotelian Society, Supplementary Volumes
Vol. 72 (1998), pp. 153-171+173-188
Published by: Wiley on behalf of The Aristotelian Society
Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/4107016
Page Count: 35
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Against Reductionist Explanations of Human Behaviour
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Abstract

[John Dupré] This paper attacks some prominent contemporary attempts to provide reductive accounts of ever wider areas of human behaviour. In particular, I shall address the claims of sociobiology (or evolutionary psychology) to provide a universal account of human nature, and attempts to subsume ever wider domains of behaviour within the scope of economics. I shall also consider some recent suggestions as to how these approaches might be integrated. Having rejected the imperialistic ambitions of these approaches, I shall briefly advocate a more pluralistic approach to the understanding of human behaviour, and one which leaves some space for the possibility of genuine human autonomy. /// [John O'Neill] One response to Dupré's criticism of rational choice theory's unifying aspirations is that it is aimed at over-ambitious versions of the theory. Immodesty about the scope of rational choice theory may look more plausible given suitable modesty in assumptions about the rational agent. The paper examines problems with one immodest version of the theory-public choice theory-and show how these shed light on problems in modest versions employing minimal assumptions about the preference structure of rational agents. However, while rational choice theory may fail in its unifying ambitions, I argue those aspirations are defensible.

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