Rationality and the language of decision making: Bringing language into the foreground in economic theory
Mark S. Peacock
Purpose – The purpose is to show the importance of language in economic activity and encourage economists to pay more attention to language than hitherto. Design/methodology/approach – The paper examines John Searle's work and consider its implications for economic theory. It discusses Searle's “background” and its role in the explanation of intentional phenomena. It analyses the implications of the background for the notion of rule-following and illustrates the role the background plays in decision making by examining conversation-analytical studies of decisions involving responses to invitations. Findings – Searle offers a novel interpretation of rules which contrasts to that found in economic theory. The decisions I examine manifest a “preference structure” independent of the preferences of individuals. These can be called “background preferences”. Personal and background preference rankings can conflict with each other. This leads to a possible interpretation of the phenomenon “weakness of will”. The paper concludes with remarks on why language is a neglected phenomenon in economic theory. Originality/value – Searle's work is slowly coming to the attention of a few economists. However, most contributions to the debate so far are at a very general level and do not tackle concrete issues of economic theory. By looking empirically at decision making, this paper shows the relevance of Searle to an issue at the heart of economic theory.
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