By Heukelom F.
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Extra resources for Behavioral Economics: A History
References here are to a 1988 reprint. 24 Understanding Human Behavior should be recognized more explicitly. Von Neumann argued, for instance, that where the fervent discussions around Euclid’s fifth postulate of the infinite plane had been phrased as the question whether it could be derived from the previous four postulates throughout the nineteenth century, the real underlying discussion had always been whether the fifth postulate was grounded in experience and empirical observation: “The prime reason, why, of all Euclid’s postulates, the fifth was questioned, was clearly the unempirical character of the concept of the entire infinite plane which intervenes there, and there only” (von Neumann, 1988, p.
The fundamental difficulty is that economic phenomena are so integral a part of life that effective experimentation would require control of virtually the entire existence of the subject. (Wallis and Friedman, 1942, pp. 179, 180) It should be emphasized, however, that Wallis and Friedman not only criticized the possibility of inferring indifference curves through psychological experiments, but that they were also equally critical of doing so by means of statistical data of economic behavior.
26, emphasis in the original) 22 Understanding Human Behavior Thus, rational behavior of individuals in the economy was characterized in three axioms, which each were decomposed into two or three parts. Von Neumann and Morgenstern were only interested in characterizing rational behavior and tried to avoid taking any position in the discussion that always seemed to accompany rational behavior, that of measuring utility, without, however, denying the possibility that one day utility might be measured: “We wish to concentrate on one problem which is not that of the measurement of utilities and of preferences” (von Neumann and Morgenstern, 2004, p.