Journal of Economic Perspectives: Vol. 9 No. 2 (Spring 1995)


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The Ethology of Homo Economicus

Article Citation

Persky, Joseph. 1995. "The Ethology of Homo Economicus." Journal of Economic Perspectives, 9(2): 221-231.

DOI: 10.1257/jep.9.2.221


Early critics of John Stuart Mill attacked him for creating a monomaniacal economic man concerned only with the accumulation of money. In fact, Mill's construct possessed a considerably richer psychology including desires for leisure, luxury, and sexual relations. This psychology played a central role in Mill's analysis of alternative institutional regimes. Mill also considered the social origins, or 'ethology,' of preference structures. Mill's framework provides a useful reference point for ongoing work in comparative economics and feminist economics. In particular, Mill's emphasis on psychological parsimony needs careful reconsideration by advocates of enriching the motives of economic man.

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Persky, Joseph (U IL, Chicago)

JEL Classifications

B12: History of Thought: Classical (includes Adam Smith


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