It is conventional to describe the portrayal of the individual in economic liberalism as an essentially Economic Man (or Homo Oeconomicus). By this is meant a person dominated by economic concerns and by the pursuit of rationally calculated self-interest. One of the most striking features of Economic Man is the considerable degree to which his wants and basic personality structure are taken as 'given' elements which exist prior to entry into society. This pre-social emphasis is typified in the assumption that individual wants are arrived at independent of social interaction, and that such wants represent choices freely made by individuals. In this view the only real constraints are set
This whole approach has been modified in the present century, mainly because of the problems associated with locating the precise mechanisms of hedonistic behaviour. Certainly no basic psycho-physical hedonistic law, with observable causal mechanisms, has been located. Beyond this, many modern economists have argued that the quest for the origins of wants is unnecessary and perhaps irrelevant. Wherever they may come from, liberal economics needs only to take them for granted as the given data on which choices are made.