I am trying to find good references that explain why human agents behave the way they do (and if possible more specifically when dealing with choices, or even tastes if you like). I know from sociology that there is an interaction between our environment and our inner self, but I would like some philosophical references to the matter as well.

My current search has lead me to the following sources:

  • "The Will and Human Action" by Thomas Pink and M.W.F. Stone
  • "Life and action", Thompson

These speak of concepts like will and inner drivers for 'moral agents'. Although I think these are fascinating, it seems to me that the focus of these works is partly on morality per se and not on defining a universal theory for human behaviour. I have thus continued my search towards Kant and Hume's Aesthetics, but these seem to deal with aesthetical perfections only as opposed to why one has these aesthetical 'tastes'.

As such I am confused as to where continue my search, am I looking in the wrong domain? Or is there a good reference work that provides an introduction/overview to this matter?

  • Might be of interest: The Art of Choosing by Sheena Iyengar. Not philosophy, more research based. It's excellent. nytimes.com/2010/03/18/garden/18choice.html – obelia Jan 24 '14 at 19:25
  • Thank you, perhaps not exactly what I was looking for, but a very interesting person nonetheless! – ciri Jan 25 '14 at 12:51
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    This is an exceptionally large question. Are you asking for a psychological explanation of choice? Are you asking why we experience ourselves as choosers? Are you asking for different accounts of how our apparent choosing is compatible with the science of our bodies? Are you asking why different people have different taste? – virmaior Mar 1 '14 at 6:05
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    As per virmaior's comment, this question seems like it belongs more on a psychology forum than philosophy. en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Motivation is a subcategory of en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Psychology. As this article puts it, psychology includes the study of "What forces drive us to act the way we do?" psychology.about.com/od/psychology101/u/psychology-basics.htm – This lad Jul 6 '14 at 19:55
  • This seems a very broad question. The best account of both aesthetics and choice that I have read is in "The Beginning of Infinity" by David Deutsch, Chapters 13-16. These chapters are, respectively about making choices, aesthetics, culture and creativity. See also youtube.com/watch?v=IMiP2SM8Tpk. – alanf Jul 9 '14 at 11:47

I would recommend b.f skinners behaviorism and Freud's psychoanalysis theories because they are pioneering and comprehensive attempts at psychological theories of everything.

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    If you change "are" to "were", you might be closer to right here. But Skinner's followers have generally abandoned his view as incoherent in light of recent philosophy of mind. – virmaior Jul 6 '14 at 15:39
  • Mary Midgely was pretty critical of Skinners methodology in her book Evolution & Religion; essentially because he denies inner subjective experience; as a methodology to understand animals, say, this is the best one can do (as we lack access to their inner experience); but as a methodology to understand human-beings its sadly lacking, as one does have some access to their inner experience - one can ask - but that of course leads to many more questions. – Mozibur Ullah Jul 6 '14 at 19:15
  • "Pioneering and comprehensive" ... and failed? – Drux May 3 '15 at 6:11

On whether you may be looking in the wrong domain: much of (micro)economics also centers around this question (why human agents behave the way they do). You could do worse than starting almost at the beginning by reading Adam Smith (a contemporary of David Hume) on economics.

Microeconomics (from Greek prefix mikro- meaning "small" and economics) is a branch of economics that studies the behavior of individuals and small impacting organizations in making decisions on the allocation of limited resources (see scarcity).

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