Neural networks, real patterns, and the mathematics of constrained optimization

An interview with Don Ross


  • Don Ross University of South Africa, South Africa, and Georgia State University, United States
  • James Grayot Erasmus University Rotterdam, The Netherlands



interview, economics, philosophy, methodology, neuroeconomics, experimental economics


In this interview, Professor Ross explores his intellectual roots and surveys his transition from cognitive scientist to economist. He discusses his involvement with Daniel Dennett, the virtues of economic optimization theory, and the merits (and demerits) of integrating economics with its neighbour disciplines.

Author Biographies

Don Ross, University of South Africa, South Africa, and Georgia State University, United States

Don Ross (Winnipeg, 1962) is professor of economics at the University of Cape Town (South Africa) and is program director of methodology at the Center for Economic Analysis of Risk (CEAR) at the J. Mack Robinson School of Business at Georgia State University (USA). He is co-founder of the Research Unit in Behavioral Economics and Neuroeconomics (RUBEN) at the University of Cape Town. From 2012 to 2014, Ross was chair of the executive board of the International Network for Economic Method (INEM), and remains an active member of the editorial boards of the Journal of Economic Methodology, Biological Theory, and Bioeconomics. He holds a PhD in philosophy of science (1990) from the University of Western Ontario.

The scope of Ross’ work is staggering. His areas of specialization span economic methodology, game theory, experimental economics of risk and time preferences, addiction and impulsive consumption, the history of economics, and philosophy of science (from logical positivism to scientific metaphysics). Moreover, he has published, refereed, and organized symposia on topics as diverse as biological evolution, human language and signalling dynamics, artificial intelligence (AI) and artificial life modelling, connectionist theories of cognition, cognitive learning theory, analysis of econometric methods, political economy of international trade, African industry studies, and economic development (with emphasis on development in South Africa).

Ross’ published monographs include: Philosophy of economics (2014), Economic theory and cognitive science: microexplanation (2005), What people want: the concept of utility from Bentham to game theory (1999), and Metaphor, meaning and cognition (1993). His collaborations include Scientific metaphysics (2012, with James Ladyman and Harold Kincaid), Distributed cognition and the will (2007, with David Spurrett, Harold Kincaid, and G. Lynn Stevens), Handbook of the philosophy of economics (2009, with Harold Kincaid), Midbrain mutiny: the picoeconomics and neuroeconomics of disordered gambling (2008, with Carla Sharp, Rudy E. Vuchinich, and David Spurrett), Every thing must go: metaphysics naturalized (2007, James Ladyman), and Dennett's philosophy: a comprehensive assessment (2000, with David Thompson and Andrew Brooks). To date, he has published upward of fifty scholarly articles, three dozen book chapters, and a score of reviews and review articles. He has also contributed over a hundred mass-market articles on trade and industrial policy in Africa.

James Grayot, Erasmus University Rotterdam, The Netherlands

James Grayot is a PhD candidate at the Erasmus Institute for Philosophy and Economics (EIPE) and copy-editor for the Erasmus Journal for Philosophy and Economics. He researches issues at the intersection of rational choice theory, cognitive science, and philosophical psychology.




How to Cite

Ross, D., & Grayot, J. (2016). Neural networks, real patterns, and the mathematics of constrained optimization: An interview with Don Ross. Erasmus Journal for Philosophy and Economics, 9(1), 142–155.