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Intentional Behaviorism: Philosophical Foundations of Economic Psychology

By: , Posted on: July 1, 2020

I am delighted at the publication my book, Intentional Behaviorism: Philosophical Foundations of Economic Psychology, because it is a culmination of a whole program of research from the initial conceptual analysis, through theoretical and empirical phases to the philosophical evaluation of the work in terms of how it explains human economic behavior.

Economic behavior, exemplified by consumer choice, is the paradigm case of human activity: it is so prevalent as to represent human activity in full and there is no aspect of human behavior that cannot be characterized and partially explained in terms of economic psychology.

The problem of how to explain behavior has always fascinated me and the conflicting accounts represented by cognitive psychology (which attributes behavior to mental events like desires and beliefs) and behaviorism (which sees behavior as the outcome of its rewarding and punishing consequences) have always called for cooperation, integration, and synthesis rather than an endless intellectual battle.

My interest was sparked by the observation that whatever could be explained in terms of psychological variables like attitudes and intentions could also be accounted for in behaviorist terms, that neither perspective precluded the other, and that each could actually gain much from acquaintance with its opposite number. My guiding light has always been John Stuart Mill’s statement that “He who knows only his own side of the case knows little of that” (well, at least since my wife brought it to my attention), and this has given rise to a methodology for investigating consumer behavior at the empirical level (which I have called consumer behavior analysis and which incorporates behavioral psychology, behavioral economics, and marketing science).

It is this that gave rise to the initial period of conceptual analysis. Empirical research is never free of theoretical considerations and the facts never “speak for themselves.” What philosophers of science call the theory-ladenness of observation means that researchers should ideally establish their conceptual framework and derive hypotheses from it before undertaking research with consumers and other individuals. I spent several years on this, examining in detail the implications of both cognitive psychology and behaviorism, their differences, and to my surprise their inter-dependencies. I undertook analyses of the distinct approaches to attitude—behavior relations, for instance, and the adoption and diffusion of innovations. Colleagues urged me to test my ideas with real-world consumers but I knew that before this could be done it was essential to establish the groundwork. Then it was time to test the outcome of all this theorization, the Behavioral Perspective Model, in the marketplace.

The empirical stage of the research which continues to this day involved studies of consumers’ brand, product and retail choices, the sensitivity of their purchases not only to changes in price but to changes in the kinds of benefits consumers gained from their purchases, namely functional and social utilities. The success of the empirical phase is apparent from the number of colleagues from around the world who brought their own ideas and methods to the party and the large number of PhD students who studied with me and have since gone on to hold professorial appointments on several continents.

What to make of all the results has been an ongoing concern for me throughout this process. Philosophy has been a central component of my research program all along. The economics and psychology, marketing and consumer research, neuroscience, and neuroeconomics that have been disciplinary mainstays of the work have all been examined minutely for their explanatory significance and their capacity to interpret the findings of the empirical research projects and to develop and extend its theoretical basis. A new philosophy of behavioral science has emerged, Intentional Behaviorism.

All phases of the research program are ongoing but in recent years its philosophical basis has assumed a major role. My objective in this phase of the work has been to show how far the conclusions reached in the course of the theoretical and empirical investigations can be justified, how they identify new avenues for research, and the generality of their applicability to the scientific study of human behavior. This book, Intentional Behaviorism: Philosophical Foundations of Economic Psychology, I am thrilled to say, is the outcome.

Janet Browne, in her magisterial biography of Charles Darwin spoke of his involvement in the evaluation of his ideas:

“It was all very well believing his own theory – any proud father would see the best side of his growing child. The problem was how to make sure others would believe it, or at least grasp something of the explanatory power which he felt his ideas offered.” (See her first volume Charles Darwin: Voyaging, London: Pimlico, 1995.

Without drawing any pretentious parallels, this is what Intentional Behaviorism: Philosophical Foundations of Economic Psychology reflects in my case. At a time when opportunities to live the life of the mind may seem remote, this book is the embodiment of the sheer intellectual joy that can arise from being involved in the pursuit of one’s own research program. I have many people to thank for their encouragement and for working with me and I hope that for them and for all who value the chance to satisfy disinterested curiosity this book is both interesting and rewarding.

About the book

• Integrates research in behavioral economics, decision-making, cognitive psychology, and consumer psychology.
• Offers readers an interdisciplinary look at intentionality and intentional explanations.
• Proposes a theory of intentional behaviorism to explain economic behavior, consumer choice, and other decision-making.
• Examines the methodologies of philosophers of mind such as Dennett and Searle.

The book is available now on ScienceDirect. Want your own copy? Enter STC320 at the checkout when you order via the Elsevier store to save up to 30%

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