Every economic theory is structured starting from general assumptions about human nature and the behavioural patterns of people. As stated by Davis , the mainstream economic theory does not really explain the individual, and what is believed to be a realistic description of the human being in economics is actually an abstract conception that represents the various subjects indiscriminately parts of people, countries, organizations, animals, machines – indeed anything to which a maximizing function might be attributed. However, today it is well-accepted the refusal of a rapacious and a-social individual, determined solely by the pursuit of personal advantages within a context of unbridled social Darwinism. With respect to this point, heterogeneous approaches have developed with interesting proposals and new leading research programs such as, for example: game theory, behavioural economics, experimental economics, evolutionary economics, neuroeconomics, complex adaptive systems theory, and the capability approach . The purpose of this thesis is to discuss the link between individual agency and economic theory from a perspective of the history of economic thought. The common ground that connects the three papers presented is the reflection upon three different theoretical approaches concerning human conduct in the complex economic world. The first paper is related to the approach to political economy represented by Sraffa’s price equations. As is known, in Production of commodities by means of commodities Sraffa’s results not only do undermine the marginalist concept of capital and its theory of value and distribution, but have also the purpose of revitalizing the old standpoint of Classical political economy. The goal of the first paper is precisely to show how the Classical Sraffian approach can be a valuable point of departure for the discussion of the behaviour of individuals or groups in the economic activity. The second paper analyses the thought of Destutt de Tracy, founder of the French liberal group of Idéologues. His observations seem to be the result of the intersection between the making of economic theory and the passionate attempt to find a system of moral philosophy that describes the individual as bearer of a plurality of passions. The third paper deals with Analytical Marxism, which attempts to interpret the heterodox ideas of Marx by means of the intellectual categories of neoclassical economy. In particular, I focus on the relevance given by Analitical Marxism to the action of the individuals, under the influence of psychological factors, in order to strive for the possible realization of a “just” society. Philosophical issues are inherent in economic theory and play a role behind the scenes. It emerges that, from the adopted point of view, the development of economic theory poses fundamental epistemological questions. We can conclude that the proper dialogue between economics and philosophy can bolster the meaning and relevance of economic theory.
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