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Title: The aspiring agent : an account of moral personhood for economics
Author: Wincewicz, Agnieszka
ISNI:       0000 0004 7971 294X
Awarding Body: Newcastle University
Current Institution: University of Newcastle upon Tyne
Date of Award: 2018
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Could modern economics benefit from understanding the economic agent as a moral person? One that is not merely a holder of 'moral preferences' but takes active part in self-formation? In modern economics 'homo economicus' is routinely employed as an adequate account of the economic agent. This atemporal and amoral creature, limited to instrumental reasoning, is used to represent both abstract entities such as firms or markets, and individual human persons or groups thereof. Theories that translate economics into policy proposals ultimately intended to benefit individual human or communities (e.g. welfare economics) tend to inherit the thin concept of homo economicus as their implicit philosophical anthropology. But homo economicus, as economists happily admit, is not a person. It cannot then serve as a reference point in determining human welfare. Limited to instrumental rationality, it does not actively participate in determining its own ends. Human persons on the other hand, in taking responsibility for the larger part of their own lives, act as moral, not merely rational, agents. Large areas of economics have proper uses for homo economicus. But for areas where economics touches on the relations and actions of human persons, wherein instrumental reasoning holds insufficient explanatory power, I offer the 'aspiring agent' as a remedy for deficiencies of homo economicus. The aspiring agent is the aspect of the human person that strives for self-betterment through ongoing, conscious attempts to refine her own preferences. She exercises practical reason in line with who she wants to become and her vision of the good. This 'aspiring agent' involves anthropological assumptions of the virtue ethics tradition of Aristotle through the Scholastics, and Adam Smith's 'impartial spectator'. I develop the concept of the aspiring agent in analysis of certain recent attempts to correct for homo economicus's deficiencies. Most attempts ultimately end up reverting to it. These attempts are found in the growing research trying to explain preference formation and change, including behavioural welfare economics and the related policy tool of nudging. I argue that the aspiring agent is a better concept for achieving their own stated research or policy goals.
Supervisor: Not available Sponsor: Not available
Qualification Name: Thesis (Ph.D.) Qualification Level: Doctoral
EThOS ID:  DOI: Not available