Economic Methodology, 1935-55: from Realism to Positivism-Instrumentalism.

by Maclean, Gillis

Abstract (Summary)
Restricted Item. Print thesis available in the University of Auckland Library or available through Inter-Library Loan. Economic Methodology, 1935 to 1955: from Realism to Positivism-Instrumentalism. This history of microeconomic methodology describes the programs of Robbins, Hutchison, Friedman and Machlup to show the continuities and changes 1935-55 with reference to the evolution of the contemporary philosophy of science. Robbins represents the prevailing realist neoclassical orthodoxy, the target of two radical positivist challenges: from Hutchison's logical positivism and then Friedman’s and Machlup's logical empiricism. The latter criticise aspects of Hutchison’s program, defending marginal analysis and the use of abstract theory. While this superficially appears to defend Robbins's methodology, Friedman and Machlup are positivist-instrumentalists like Hutchison and repudiate orthodoxy just as thoroughly. After Hutchison positivism evolves rather than disappears. At the end of this period the outward form of Robbins's theory has been restored but its substance is radically altered. A new reading of this history results. A historiographical research program - a framework for criticism and historiography – is developed for economic methodology as an extension of Popper's world 3 view of knowledge and situational analysis. The concepts of methodological programs and methodological dimensions are introduced. Six critical methodological problems characterise and explain this history. (l) realism-instrumentalism: are theories descriptive or instrumental? (2) apriorism-positivism: is reason and/or introspection a source of economic knowledge or is empirical experience the only source? (3) subjectivism-behaviourism: does understanding economic behaviour require a first-person or third-person perspective? (4) is the function of empirical testing to verify, fatsify or check applicability? (5) indirect-direct testability: can fundamental assumptions be independently empirically tested? (6) is an inductive method appropriate for economics? Solutions to these problems represent the epistemic commitments which characterise the four economists’ programs and explain the course of this history of methodology. A rational explanation for this history is thus provided. Each methodological program can be reconstructed as a rational response to a world 3 (objective) problem situation. This generates an “internal” history. There is no need to search for explanations based on external factors or world 2 (non-rational) ideas, and in particular Anti-Methodology.
Bibliographical Information:


School:The University of Auckland / Te Whare Wananga o Tamaki Makaurau

School Location:New Zealand

Source Type:Master's Thesis



Date of Publication:01/01/1997

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