Published online by Cambridge University Press: 19 May 2011
This paper examines the strengths and weaknesses of one of science's most pervasive and flexible metaprinciples; optimality is used to explain utility maximization in economics, least effort principles in physics, entropy in chemistry, and survival of the fittest in biology. Fermat's principle of least time involves both teleological and causal considerations, two distinct modes of explanation resting on poorly understood psychological primitives. The rationality heuristic in economics provides an example from social science of the potential biases arising from the extreme flexibility of optimality considerations, including selective search for confirming vidence, ex post rationalization, and the confusion of prediction with explanation. Commentators are asked to reflect on the extent to which optimality is (1) an organizing principle of nature, (2) a set of relatively unconnected techniques of science, (3) a normative principle for rational choice and social organization, (4) a metaphysical way of looking at the world, or (5) something else still.
Full text views reflects PDF downloads, PDFs sent to Google Drive, Dropbox and Kindle and HTML full text views.