Homo Economicus And Homo Psychologicus

If you’ve been reading this blog recently, no doubt you’ve noticed that I’ve shined a critical light on what I’m presently calling homo psychologicus. In one popular post, “Stop Confessing Your Vulnerabilities,” I discussed the prevalence of a certain secular confessional mode. In yesterday’s post, “There’s No Such Thing as ‘Mental Health,'” I sought to show that (a) the concept of mental health is what Gilbert Ryle once referred to as a “category mistake” and (b) there is no such ens (or thing/entity) called “mind” anyway.

Today I want to provide some context for these reflections.

Homo Economicus and Homo Psychologicus

Since 2017, I’ve been exploring the nature of Total Work. Here, in case you’re unfamiliar, is a very short version of that argument:

The Protestant Reformation had a huge role to play in the twenty-first century development of “meaningful work.”

I’m skeptical of homo economicus (i.e., of ‘economic man’) and I’m quite concerned about (a) the begging off of asking and answering Life Questions by appealing to (b) being a Worker and (c) caring about so-called “meaningful work.” In short, any earnest philosophical investigation will surely reveal that I am not a Worker, that meaning is not to be discovered through or created in work (for such is impossible), and that a work-centric system, together with ideological support, is what makes us think and feel otherwise.

Turn now to homo psychologicus (i.e., ‘psychological man’). Over the course of the twentieth century, we’ve experienced the slow colonization of our discourse by psychological categories (see Philip Rieff, Christopher Lasch, and many others). These days we do not say, for instance, that a serial killer is evil; we mistakenly say that he is sick. We–that is, modern secular humanists; I’m using the “royal ‘we'” here–do not say that we wish for God’s will to be mine; we say, rather, that we wish to be well or to experience well-being. Nor do we say that we want to be good; we say that we want to be happy. Accordingly, we prefer (I hesitate to use words like value here) transient subjective experiences of “good feeling,” of pleasure, of “overall wellbeing.”

The therapeutic dispensation is very worrying. Just as Total Work disables the asking and seeking to answer Life Questions, so does the therapeutic. In this case, the latter reduces the realm of values (the good, the beautiful, the true, the sacred, the wise, and so on) to the realm of wellness (the functional, the healthy, the emotionally and cognitively stable, and so on). But the realm of wellness tells us nothing about how to live, about what is worth living for, about what we’d be willing to die for, about what is really real, about how to form just political communities, about whether the human is related to any superhuman powers (see Christian Smith, Religion: What It is, How It Works, and Why It Matters), about how to be virtuous, about how to become wise, and the like. It tells us nothing whatsoever about such matters; instead, it promises that we’ll be able to “cope” with the modern world in which we find ourselves.

My hypothesis is that homo economicus is linked to homo psychologicus (i.e., ‘psychological man’), though I don’t know how yet. The inquiry is just getting under way.