The paper, which acts as an introduction to the Special Issue devoted to ‘‘The whole breadth of
reason’’, addresses the topic of economic rationality and discusses its strengths and weaknesses
within an interdisciplinary perspective highlighting the relational dimension of agents and actions.
Exiting the cage of homo economicus, we critically discuss both behavioral economics and neuro
economics approaches, showing that they are not immune from limitations due to both dubious
technical procedures and fragile epistemological foundations. When taking rational decision under
structural uncertainty, human beings rely on default practices which are inherently developed and
dynamically adapted within a community of concrete individuals; they also tend to provide persuasive
justification of one’s belief to other people. The paper concludes that rationality is a powerful
tool, within a relational, dynamic, realistic and ‘whole’ anthropology.
If human beings were empirically shown to be irrational, would this finding destroy the foundations
of economic science? We think not because we doubt that this postulate is needed as a foundation
of economic science. We examine the laboratory experiments conducted by behavioral
economists and experimental psychologists on human judgment and decision-making, using Bayes’
Theorem and the Expected Value model. We examine a number of issues: Can we base ourselves
on experimenters’ full rationality for doubting of human rationality? Are rational models anything
else than handy tools? Do humans’ minds function like rational tools or with rational tools? How
an ‘‘irrational’’ human being could create anything ‘‘rational’’? Should rationality be subordinated
to reason? Nature being neither rational nor irrational, is there any point in applying the
concept of rationality to one its constituents? If human beings were rational forms of life, would
this specie have survived?
Experimental psychologists and economists construct an individual or interactive decision situation
in the laboratory. They find non-negligible differences between the observed behavior of participants
and the theoretically implied behavior. We refer here to the expected utility theory and to
strategic equilibrium in non-cooperative game theory. We comment on the question whether rationality,
implies these theoretical behaviors and whether the non-negligible differences as above imply
that participants in experiments are irrational. We also comment on the relation between rationality
and consistency, in particular in situations of uncertainty.
We claim that the emergence of trust is best explained by relation-based arguments. After briefly
surveying alternative explanations which concentrate on material payoffs both with self-centered
and with other-regarding preferences, we examine theoretical discussions of cooperative and trust
behavior framed in terms of attitudes, esteem and, most of all, intentions. An important implication
of all these approaches is that the relational element makes human interactions different, as it is
also documented by a lot of evidence produced by neuroeconomic experiments.
When trust is based on relations and on the recognition of the others’ intentions, efficient outcomes
are brought about by the agents’ (at least) partial disregard for the maximization of their
material payoff and by heavily personalized interactions. Both these features are distinctive of the
functioning of communities and the particular way how they work and solve coordination problems.
Globally, the real economy of goods and services functions better than ever in human history, but
the financial and monetary system remains subject to crippling crises, including a severe one in
2008. This deviation can be explained by ‘‘the power of bad ideas’’, in particular policy-makers’
narrow focus on quantitative variables and their distrust of moral arguments. The combination
leaves regulators and practitioners unable to recognise the role of greed and pride in finance. A
moral approach could help reduce the financial system’s vulnerability. The description of economic
activity in Benedict XVI’s Caritas in Veritate provides a good starting point. He offers a fundamentally
non-monetary view of three economic arrangements: giving through exchange (commerce),
giving through duty (taxes), and ‘‘gratuitousness and communion’’ (economic self-giving
without concern for a return). The integration of the last into economic analysis would be particularly
This paper considers and analyses theses about justice supported by Michael Sandel. The crucial
problem concerns the connection between the definition of good for every individual and for a society,
and if this good must be defined and pursued freely, or if it can be established by other persons.
The question is open and Sandel supports that not necessarily a society where exists the widest degree
of freedom is also a good society. In such a situation Sandel supports the idea that in any
case the possible choice for individual and society should be discussed in terms of reason, and yet
maintaining the maximum freedom in the society. He emphasizes the need of a civic engagement
by those who support the importance of moral values as identified according to the Communitarian
tradition, and according what is thought as a personal and civic virtue to be practised.