Real Patterns and the Ontological Foundations of Microeconomics

Economics and Philosophy 11 (01):113- (1995)
Abstract
Most philosophical accounts of the foundations of economics have assumed that economics is intended to be an empirical science concerned with human behaviour, though they have, of course, differed over the extent to which it has been or can be successful as such an enterprise. A prominent source of dissent against this consensus is Alexander Rosenberg. In his recent book, Rosenberg summarizes and completes his statement of a position that he has been developing for some time . He argues that although economists evaluate one another's work according to shared and rigorous standards of adequacy, these standards are strictly internal, like those of mathematics, instead of being derived from discoveries about contingent relationships between theoretical statements and empirical facts. Economics, that is to say, is essentially conceptual rather than empirical inquiry. In the following discussion, I will provide grounds for resisting Rosenberg's conclusion. The point of this criticism, however, is not mainly negative. Most of the historical preoccupations of the philosophy of economics, like those of the philosophy of science in general, have been epistemological. Careful attention to Rosenberg's argument, however, redirects our attention to ontological questions about the objects of economics, and this redirection, I will maintain, is to be welcomed. I will argue that while the majority of philosophers of economics is correct, as against Rosenberg, in regarding economics as an empirical science, the conventional view as to the identity of its empirical objects should be substantially revised under the pressure of Rosenberg's criticisms. My critical analysis of the implications of Rosenberg's work for the ontological commitments of economics is intended to furnish one line of argument towards my own conception of the objects of economics. This conception, which is still preliminary in many respects, will be briefly sketched toward the end of the present paper; a detailed account of it is given in Ross and LaCasse
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