Quote of the Week: Amartya Sen on Revealed Preferences

I do not find it difficult to believe that birds and bees and dogs and cats do reveal their preferences by choice; it is with human beings that the proposition is not particularly persuasive. An act of choice for this social animal is, in a fundamental sense, always a social act.

– Sen, “Behaviour and the Concept of Preferences”, p. 253

An exciting quote: Human exceptionalism, a critique of revealed preference theory, a theory of sociality, this quote got it all. But do not expect the paper to provide you all the answers, however insightful a reading it might be.

The intuition underlying the quote rings true with me and yet the claim is terribly vague. Much more remains to be said about why the social nature of humans interferes with revealing preferences in choice behaviour. The paper does not say much more on this issue.

Like many good quotes, it invites you to think more about an issue rather than deliver the goods.


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