The Birth of Homo Œconomicus: The methodological debate on the economic agent from J. S. Mill to V. Pareto

Bee, Michele and Desmarais-Tremblay, Maxime. 2023. The Birth of Homo Œconomicus: The methodological debate on the economic agent from J. S. Mill to V. Pareto. Journal of the History of Economic Thought, 45(1), pp. 1-26. ISSN 1053-8372 [Article]

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Abstract or Description

This paper proposes a genealogy of the concept of homo œconomicus as it emerged from the methodological debate on the economic agent of political economy. If Mill gave birth to the economic man in his 1836 Essay “On the Definition of Political Economy,” he certainly did not baptize him. The expression was introduced by Francis A. Walker after Mill passed away in the 1870s. Economic man acquired its Latin name of homo œconomicus under the pen of French Catholic economist Claudio Jannet in 1878. Yet, only at the end of the century did Maffeo Pantaleoni (1889) proudly reclaim homo œconomicus as a building block of pure economics. In reaction to the evolutionary hedonism of Pantaleoni, Vilfredo Pareto then cleansed the concept of homo œconomicus and realized the Millian project of an abstract science based on an economic agent.

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This is an Open Access article, distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution licence (, which permits unrestricted re-use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original work is properly cited.

This paper was presented at the twenty-third annual ESHET Conference in Lille in May 2019, at the 2019 HES annual conference in New York City in June 2019, and at the fifty-first UK History of Economic Thought Conference in London in September 2019.


homo oeconomicus, economic man, John Stuart Mill, Vilfredo Pareto, history of economics, economic methodology, Claudio Jannet

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Institute of Management Studies


25 October 2021Accepted
19 September 2022Published Online
1 March 2023Published

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Date Deposited:

21 Dec 2021 09:55

Last Modified:

01 Mar 2023 16:21

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Yes, this version has been peer-reviewed.


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