Rationalism and mainstream economics

Journal of Economic Methodology 10 (3):397-415 (2003)
It is generally agreed that mainstream economics follows John Stuart Mill's economic methodology. Since Mill's deductivist methodology was explicitly anti?empirical, this raises the question of to what degree economics is an empirical science. To help answer this question, Gerald Holton's notion of themata is introduced. Themata are ideas and intuitions that influence scientists in their investigations that are based neither on empirical observation nor deductive reasoning, and so are often overlooked by empiricists. The question can then be posed as follows: when empirical data conflict with themata, do economists privilege the former or the latter ? do they privilege experience or intuition? It is argued that there are documented instances of research programs in which intuition is privileged over experience. From this it is concluded that economists follow two methodologies: an empiricist methodology and a rationalist methodology. The question of which methodology is more frequently employed is a matter for subsequent empirical research
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