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Don Ross

Don Ross is Professor of Economics and Dean of Commerce at the University of Cape Town, and Research Fellow in the Center for Economic Analysis of Risk at Georgia State University. He is the author of Economic Theory and Cognitive Science: Microexplanation (MIT Press, 2005), companion volume to Midbrain Mutiny.

Titles by This Author

The Picoeconomics and Neuroeconomics of Disordered Gambling: Economic Theory and Cognitive Science

The explanatory power of economic theory is tested by the phenomenon of irrational consumption, examples of which include such addictive behaviors as disordered and pathological gambling. Midbrain Mutiny examines different economic models of disordered gambling, using the frameworks of neuroeconomics (which analyzes decision making in the brain) and picoeconomics (which analyzes patterns of consumption behavior), and drawing on empirical evidence about behavior and the brain.

The book describes addiction in neuroeconomic terms as chronic disruption of the balance between the midbrain dopamine system and the prefrontal and frontal serotonergic system, and reviews recent evidence from trials testing the effectiveness of antiaddiction drugs. The authors argue that the best way to understand disordered and addictive gambling is with a hybrid picoeconomic-neuroeconomic model.


In this study, Don Ross explores the relationship of economics to other branches of behavioral science, asking, in the course of his analysis, under what interpretation economics is a sound empirical science. The book explores the relationships between economic theory and the theoretical foundations of related disciplines that are relevant to the day-to-day work of economics—the cognitive and behavioral sciences. It asks whether the increasingly sophisticated techniques of microeconomic analysis have revealed any deep empirical regularities—whether technical improvement represents improvement in any other sense. Casting Daniel Dennett and Kenneth Binmore as its intellectual heroes, the book proposes a comprehensive model of economic theory that, Ross argues, does not supplant but recovers the core neoclassical insights and counters the caricaturish conception of neoclassicism so derided by advocates of behavioral or evolutionary economics.

Because he approaches his topic from the viewpoint of the philosophy of science, Ross devotes one chapter to the philosophical theory and terminology on which his argument depends and another to related philosophical issues. Two chapters provide the theoretical background in economics, one covering developments in neoclassical microeconomics and the other treating behavioral and experimental economics and evolutionary game theory. The three chapters at the heart of the argument then apply theses from the philosophy of cognitive science to foundational problems for economic theory. In these chapters economists will find a genuinely new way of thinking about the implications of cognitive science for economics and cognitive scientists will find in economic behavior a new testing site for the explanations of cognitive science.

Titles by This Editor

The image of the addict in popular culture combines victimhood and moral failure; we sympathize with addicts in films and novels because of their suffering and their hard-won knowledge. And yet actual scientific knowledge about addiction tends to undermine this cultural construct. In What Is Addiction?, leading addiction researchers from neuroscience, psychology, genetics, philosophy, economics, and other fields survey the latest findings in addiction science. They discuss such questions as whether addiction is one kind of condition, or several; if addiction is neurophysiological, psychological, or social, or incorporates aspects of all of these; to what extent addicts are responsible for their problems, and how this affects health and regulatory policies; and whether addiction is determined by inheritance or environment or both. The chapter authors discuss the possibility of a unifying basis for different addictions (considering both substance addiction and pathological gambling), offering both neurally and neuroscientifically grounded accounts as well as discussions of the social context of addiction. There can be no definitive answer yet to the question posed by the title of this book; but these essays demonstrate a sweeping advance over the simplistic conception embedded in popular culture.

Contributors: George Ainslie, Jennifer D. Bellegarde, Warren K. Bickel, Jennifer Bramen, Karen O. Brandon, Arthur Brody, Peter Collins, Jack Darkes, Mark S. Goldman, Gene M. Heyman, Harold Kincaid, Edythe D. London, James MacKillop, Traci Man, Neil Manson, John E. McGeary, John R. Monterosso, Ben Murrell, Nancy M. Petry, Marc N. Potenza, Howard Rachlin, Lara A. Ray, A. David Redish, Richard R. Reich, Don Ross, Timothy Schroeder, David Spurrett, Jackie Sullivan, Golnaz Tabibni, Andrew Ward, Richard Yi

Individual Volition and Social Context

Recent scientific findings about human decision making would seem to threaten the traditional concept of the individual conscious will. The will is threatened from “below” by the discovery that our apparently spontaneous actions are actually controlled and initiated from below the level of our conscious awareness, and from “above” by the recognition that we adapt our actions according to social dynamics of which we are seldom aware. In Distributed Cognition and the Will, leading philosophers and behavioral scientists consider how much, if anything, of the traditional concept of the individual conscious will survives these discoveries, and they assess the implications for our sense of freedom and responsibility. The contributors all take science seriously, and they are inspired by the idea that apparent threats to the cogency of the idea of will might instead become the basis of its reemergence as a scientific subject. They consider macro-scale issues of society and culture, the micro-scale dynamics of the mind/brain, and connections between macro-scale and micro-scale phenomena in the self-guidance and self-regulation of personal behavior.

Contributors: George Ainslie, Wayne Christensen, Andy Clark, Paul Sheldon Davies, Daniel C. Dennett, Lawrence A. Lengbeyer, Dan Lloyd, Philip Pettit, Don Ross, Tamler Sommers, Betsy Sparrow, Mariam Thalos, Jeffrey B. Vancouver, Daniel M. Wegner, Tadeusz W. ZawidzkiDon Ross is Professor of Philosophy and Professor of Finance, Economics, and Quantitative Methods at the University of Alabama at Birmingham and Professor of Economics at the University of Cape Town, South Africa. David Spurrett is Professor of Philosophy at the Howard College Campus of the University of KwaZulu-Natal, South Africa. Harold Kincaid is Professor and Chair of the Department of Philosophy and Director of the Center for Ethics and Values in the Sciences at the University of Alabama at Birmingham. G. Lynn Stephens is Professor of Philosophy at the University of Alabama at Birmingham.

A Comprehensive Assessment

The influential philosopher Daniel Dennett is best known for his distinctive theory of mental content, his elucidation of how the complex components of mental processing seem to come together in the relatively coherent narratives that we tell ourselves about ourselves and in his vivid accounts of how to think about minds in their evolutionary setting. The essays in this collection step back to ask: Do the complex components of Dennett's work on intentionality, consciousness, evolution, and ethics themselves come together into a coherent philosophical system?

The essays, which grew out of a conference attended by Dennett, consider evolution, intentionality, consciousness, ontology, and ethics and free will. Unusually, for a collection of this kind, the authors were able to take account of Dennett's comments on their views. In the concluding essay, "With a Little Help from My Friends," Dennett offers his own thoughts on the comprehensiveness of his philosophy.

Andrew Brook, Timothy Crowe, Daniel C. Dennett, Paul Dumouchel, Timothy Kenyon, Dan Lloyd, Ruth Garrett Millikan, T. Brian Mooney, Thomas Polger, David Rosenthal, Don Ross, William Seager, David Thompson, Christopher Viger.