Philosophy of Economics

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Contemporary economics addresses many questions that are often considered ‘philosophical’, and many core issues in philosophy are to some extent ‘economic’. Indeed, the separation of economics and philosophy into fully distinct domains of enquiry is a relatively recent phenomenon and is to a large extent artificial.

The Erasmus Institute for Philosophy of Economics (EIPE) is worldwide one of the leading research centers in the philosophy of economics. The most important points of contact between philosophy and economics are in the areas of theory, methodology, rationality, and ethics. At EIPE, we study these four areas from a philosophical perspective. What is special about EIPE is that in doing so we engage with how economics is actually practiced by economists, in theory and practice. We make explicit, articulate and critically discuss what often remains implicit in economic theory and explore how this can affect its use in the real world, such as in the arena of policy making.


In the area of theory, we analyze the manner in which economics makes implicit assumptions about the underlying ontology, causation and the relation between the individual and the social. To provide a perspective on economic research as currently practiced by the mainstream of economists, we research both the history of the discipline and heterodox approaches. The historical periods and historical economists we focus on include early macroeconomics: Jan Tinbergen, Lionel Robbins, John Maynard Keynes and Keynesianism. Among the heterodox approaches, we have special strengths in evolutionary and institutionalist economics and, more specifically, look at generalized Darwinism, ontology, historical specificity and evolutionary game theory. Another increasingly prominent area of research conducted at EIPE concerns the theoretical foundations and normative precommitments of welfare economics, ranging from the broadening of the informational basis in welfare assessment to include information about freedom, to the challenges welfare economic theory faces in the light of recent findings in behavioral economics.


In the area of methodology, we study the myriad of ways in which the products of economics such as predictions, explanations, and theories are created using models, experiments, econometrics and statistical analysis and other methods. Consequently, the boundaries between economics and philosophy are especially fluid here. At EIPE, we have research strengths in virtually all areas of methodology, including scientific explanation, causation and causal inference, measurement, experimentation, thought experiments and simulation, case studies, models and idealization.


In the area of rationality and decision theory, we study preferences and choices by individuals and groups, as analyzed in the various branches of rational and social choice theory. These branches, especially individual decision theory, game theory and social choice, form an important building block of modern microeconomics and welfare analysis. We analyze in how far economic theory can be built on rational choice theory and what kinds of limitations such an approach entails. Members of EIPE are specifically interested in models of agency and preference formation, social choice theory and models of deliberation, as well as intertemporal decision and game theory.


At EIPE we contribute to research in the field of ethics and economics in a variety of ways. The area of comprises two main fields of research at EIPE: Firstly, we draw on political philosophy to discuss the normative implications of market outcomes in the light of distributive justice, fairness, equality, freedom and sustainable development, among others. Secondly, we study how theories, concepts and facts in economics presuppose ethical commitments, such as the implicit moral judgements in economic measurement, justifying the aims of economics as a science. Some of the research at EIPE is located in the field of “Formal Ethics”, a thriving field of the literature where philosophers and economists interact, employing formal tools, such as axiomatics or game theory, to shed light on ethical problems. 

At EIPE, we think that philosophical research on the methodological and foundational aspects of economics has to proceed in close contact to economics. EIPE members contribute to research in all of those four fields of enquiry by organizing and presenting at international workshops and conferences and publishing in leading journals.


Erasmus Institute for Philosophy and Economics

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