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Homo economicus is theoretically dead, but in practice he is still alive

Within the project Homo Florens, the human image Homo florens taught in addition to human view Homo economicus in higher economic education. But what exactly does this view of man mean? And what is the importance of this humanity for economics? We put these questions to researcher Steven van den Heuvel, director of The Institute of Leadership and Social Ethics.

'Absurd' Homo economicus
At present, the human view that is (implicitly) used is that of Homo economicus. This view of man presupposes that man's behavior can be explained by viewing it as rational self-interest. This view of man was made explicit by the philosopher and economist John Stuart Mill (1806-1873). However, it was never his intention that it be seen as a description of man in his totality. The human view is useful in economics, because in that domain much can be explained from rational self-interest; but as a total description of man, the paradigm is far too limited.

But also as an economic view of man, the Homo economicus too limited. Steven explains that behavioral economists have long since said goodbye to this paradigm: "Economists are of course also just people, who - in addition to rational self-interest - also recognize all sorts of other motives in themselves. So the problem is not so much that they have to recognize that a person is more than a Homo economicus; they know that themselves. What matters is that a broader human view is developed, which then leads to more appropriate tools for measuring human development and economic behavior."

Homo florens practice
Homo florens does more justice to the motivations for human behavior. Indeed, it assumes that a human being has four fundamental motivations. First, survival, the drive to survive. This is about meeting basic needs. Second, mastery, the need for control over one's destiny (think pursuing an education, excelling in a profession). The third drive is attachment, the deeply human need for social connection. And the fourth drive, finally, is meaning; it denotes the human need for meaning, and sense of purpose. "Homo economicus reduces humans in particular to the second drive, that of mastery," Steven explains. "The other drives are difficult to study, from the paradigm of the Homo economicus."

Social Impact Homo florens
Homo economicus offers a simple way to measure human development; gross national product (GNP). However, this certainly does not say everything about the freedoms and development opportunities of people in a country; the GNP offers too unsubtle a picture. Things can be done differently: in Bhutan, not only purchasing power but also happiness is considered as an indicator of how society is doing. The measurement instruments used have a major impact on policy choices. Governments, for example, are strongly guided by GNP, precisely because it is such a good tool for comparison.

Steven: "You can even see it now, for example, with the war in Ukraine. That is ultimately translated into the purchasing power picture for us. However, there is of course much more to be said than that; and particularly within economic science there is the realization that things have to change." To do justice to people, therefore, more measuring instruments are needed that are in line with a more nuanced view of people.

Homo florens in education
Project Homo Florens brings the new human view into higher economic education as awareness of the importance of human view is needed Homo florens in addition to that of the Homo economicusThe education sector is very much aware that we have to do justice to the whole person. We have therefore noticed a great deal of interest in our project, which is encouraging."

The Institute of Leadership and Social Ethics is the primary cooperation partner of Learning for Tomorrow in project Homo Florens. The Green Brain and Our New Economy are also involved, as secondary project partners. This project is co-sponsored by Goldschmeding Foundation. The participating colleges are HHS, BUAS, CHE, HAN, HR, Avans, InHolland and Fontys.

Email project manager Bart Mijland at bart@lerenvoormorgen.org for more information and to sign up for the learning community! You can also find more information about Homo Florens via this link!

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