Consciousness and Intention in Economics and Philosophy

Kyoto Sangyo University (KSU) in December 2015



Economists describe human behaviour in observable terms. When they explain it in terms of utility-maximisation, they do not presume that a person
is aware of his/her utility function; much less that he or she makes conscious calculations to chose such an option that maximises it. Rather, they claim that there exists a certain function such that his/her choice can be described as the maximisation of it. Economists describe human behaviour just as physicists express the trajectory of a bullet. Explanation from the outside observer’s viewpoint is sufficient for science; explanation from the actor’s viewpoint is not observable and thus belongs to metaphysics. The explanation of human behaviour in terms of consciousness and intention is unnecessary if the concepts are de ned unambiguously.
The motto, which economists regard as the self-restraint to keep economics an empirical science, may however make it difficult to describe people’s behaviour, interactions in particular, in the real world. Whatever the definitions of consciousness and intention are, most people believe that they themselves and others have them. Guessing what others are thinking about and looking for, people make moral judgements about it and responding to their actions accordingly: people may react to the same action differently if they assume the actor’s consciousness and intention differently. When they argue for or against an economic policy, people pay attention not only to its expected effects but also the policy maker’s intentions.


Economy is a system composed of agents who know they themselves and others have consciousness and intentions. We would like to discuss the implications at the conference.



Economists usually describe how people make a decision when it affects their own interests. Every agent’s interest is de ned unambiguously prior to economic analysis.
In the real world, however, people may be interested in what they cannd least relation to their interests. They have opinions about it from the viewpoint of a disinterested third party. Certainly, sel shness is often hidden behind a disinterested opinion, but it is not always the case. People sometimes make such actions that they regard as necessary for fairness even if it sacri ces their time and money. In the circumstances people guess, as well as the interested parties’ consciousness and intention, the interested parties’ consciousness and intention. A plan which is acceptable for the former parties may not be realised in a society if it is cot acceptable for the latter parties.
Interested parties are surrounded by disinterested parties, who may be interested in interested parties’ consciousness and intention. We would like to discuss the implications at the conference.
We are proud that we can invite two leading scholars in the research into continues, free will and intention: Prof. Shaun Nichols (University of Arizona) as two of our keynote speakers. We are planning to invite other economists and scientists who have contributed to the research and will contribute to the conference.