Ludwig von Mises’s methodological apriorism is frequently attributed to the broader Austrian School of economics, of which, of course, Mises was a prominent member. However, there is considerable controversy concerning the meaning of Mises’s various attempts to justify his apriorism. There are prima facie inconsistencies within and across Mises’s methodological writings that engender massive confusion in the secondary literature. This confusion is aggravated by the fact that Mises’s apriorism cannot be straightforwardly interpreted as an artifact of his historical milieu. Indeed, (...) the two prevailing families of interpretation both treat Mises’s apriorism as radically anachronistic, albeit in different senses. According to “extreme” interpretations, Mises’s apriorism reflects an epistemology several decades, if not centuries, beyond its expiration date. According to “moderate” interpretations, however, Mises’s apriorism anticipates ideas that would not appear in the epistemological literature for several decades to come. Finally, there is evidence to suggest that Mises’s actual methodological beliefs are not reflected in his writings, that Mises either obfuscated or exaggerated his methodological position, for whatever reasons, making it seem more radical than it was in fact. I conclude that we have no idea what justification Mises actually intended when he asserted the a priori nature of the fundamental propositions of economics. If this is right, then, whatever method(s) they follow, Austrian economists cannot (deliberately) follow Mises’s apriorism. (shrink)
Normative welfare economics commonly assumes that individuals’ preferences can be reliably inferred from their choices and relies on preference satisfaction as the normative standard for welfare. In recent years, several authors have criticized welfare economists’ reliance on preference satisfaction as the normative standard for welfare and have advocated grounding normative welfare economics on opportunities rather than preferences. In this paper, I argue that although preference-based approaches to normative welfare economics face significant conceptual and practical challenges, opportunity-based approaches fail to provide (...) a more reliable and informative foundation for normative welfare economics than preference-based approaches. I then identify and rebut various influential calls to ground normative welfare economics on opportunities rather than preferences to support my qualified defence of preference-based approaches. (shrink)
I examine the history of the concept of spontaneity in philosophy and the social sciences, particularly as it relates to monetary phenomena. I then offer an argument for the general significance of spontaneity. The essay concludes that scholars across the humanities and social sciences, whatever their (disciplinary, political, ideological, etc.) persuasion, would be well-served to further develop the theory of spontaneity and its social effects.
Economists associated with the Austrian School of Economics are known to deny the value of macroeconomics as descended from the work of John Maynard Keynes and, especially, his followers. Yet, Austrian economists regularly engage in a related scientific activity: theorizing about the causes and consequences of economic fluctuations, i.e., the business cycle. What explains the Austrians’ willingness to engage in theorizing about the business cycle while denying the scientific import of macroeconomics? The present paper argues that the methodological precepts of (...) the School, which have remained largely in place since Carl Menger first pronounced them at the start of the Methodenstreit, justify the kind of business-cycle theorizing that Austrians do and imply the limited scientific value of macroeconomics as descended from Keynes. (shrink)
We study a case that applies hermeneutics to social sciences, in particular to the Austrian School of economics. We argue that an inaccurate treatment of hermeneutics contributed to an epistemological downgrade of the Austrian School in the economic scientific community. We discuss hoe this shortcoming can be fixed and how a proper hermeneutic application to the Austrian school explains why this school of thought is neither positivist nor postmodern.
In recent decades, economists have developed methods for measuring the country-wide level of inequality of opportunity. The most popular method, called the ex-ante method, uses data on the distribution of outcomes stratified by groups of individuals with the same circumstances, in order to estimate the part of outcome inequality that is due to these circumstances. I argue that these methods are potentially biased, both upwards and downwards, and that the unknown size of this bias could be large. To argue that (...) the methods are biased, I show that they ought to measure causal or counterfactual quantities, while the methods are only capable of identifying correlational information. To argue that the bias is potentially large, I illustrate how the causal complexity of the real world leads to numerous non-causal correlations between circumstances and outcomes and respond to objections claiming that such correlations are nonetheless indicators of unfair disadvantage, that is, inequality of opportunity. (shrink)
In this article, I offer a methodological analysis of the empirical research on the causal effects of trade liberalisation, and assess whether such studies can be of any use for guiding policy prescriptions in real-world economies. The analysis focuses on the mainstream economic research that has been used to support arguments in favour of trade liberalisation during the last decades. Even though there are empirical results that could be taken as valid evidence for a causal connection between free trade and (...) economic gains, none of the existing evidence licences trustworthy inferences about the policy effectiveness of trade liberalisation reforms in real-world cases. There are three aspects of the empirical literature that make it highly problematic for making reliable policy inferences: (a) the criteria used to define the notion of ‘free trade’, (b) the background assumptions embedded in the econometric techniques used for estimating causal effects, and (c) the widespread desire among academic economists to attain scientific results in terms of universally valid generalisations. The analysis exposes a worrisome mismatch between, on the one hand, the research aims and outcomes of scientific economics and, on the other, the kind of evidence that would be useful for guiding actual policy deliberations. (shrink)
In this paper I challenge the pernicious aspects of Milton Friedman's methodological outlook that continues to hold sway over mainstream neoclassical economists. I do this by showing how Friedman's own methodological dicta could have been used against him when he famously advanced the expectations critique of the Phillips curve at his presidential address to the American Economic Association. I use this case study to further suggest that psychological and neurophysiological data should not be deemed irrelevant to economic science.
"David Ricardo has been acclaimed - or vilified - for merits he would never have dreamt of, or sins for which he was entirely innocent. Entrenched mythology labels him as a utilitarian economist, an enemy of the working class, an impractical theorist, a scientist with 'no philosophy at all' and the author of a formalist methodological revolution. Exploring a middle ground between theory and biography, this book explores the formative intellectual encounters of a man who came to economic studies via (...) other experiences, thus bridging the gap between the historical Ricardo and the economist's Ricardo. The chapters undertake a thorough analysis of Ricardo's writings in their context, asking who was speaking, what audience was being addressed, with what communicative intentions, using what kind of lexicon and communicative conventions, and starting with what shared knowledge. The work opens in presenting the different religious communities with which Ricardo was in touch. It goes on to describe his education in the leading science of the time - geology - before he turned to the study of political economy. Another chapter discusses five 'philosophers' - students of logic, ethics and politics - with whom he was in touch. From correspondence, manuscripts and publications, the closing chapters reconstruct, firstly, Ricardo's ideas on scientific method, the limits of the 'abstract science' and its application, secondly, his ideas on ethics and politics and their impact on strategies for improving the condition of the working class. This book sheds new light on Ricardian economics, providing an invaluable service to readers of economic methodology, philosophy of economics, the history of economic thought, political thought and philosophy. Sergio Cremaschi is a former Reader of Moral Philosophy at the 'Amedeo Avogadro' University at Vercelli"--. (shrink)
Despite the conclusions from the contemporary philosophy of science, many economists cherish the ideal of positive science. Therefore, value-free economics is still the central paradigm in economics. The first aim of the paper is to investigate economics' axiomatic assumptions from an epistemological perspective. The critical analysis of the literature shows that the positive-normative dichotomy is exaggerated. Moreover, value-free economics is based on normative foundations that have a negative impact on individuals and society. The paper's second aim is to show that (...) economics' normativity is not a problem because the discussion concerning values is possible and unavoidable. In this context, Weber and other methodologists are investigated. The conclusion of the paper is that science can thrive without strict methodological rules thanks to institutional mechanisms. Therefore, economists could learn from artists who accept the world without absolute rules. This perspective opens the possibility for methodological pluralism and normative approaches. (shrink)
"F. A. Hayek and the Epistemology of Politics is an exploration of an important problem that has largely been ignored: the problem of policymaker ignorance, and the limits of political epistemology. Scott Scheall explores Hayek's attitude to the philosophy of science and political philosophy, arguing that Hayek defended a philosophy of science that implied certain potential dangers of politicized science, and that his political philosophy established the potential dangers of misapplying scientific methods and results to matters of public policy. The (...) book offers an explanation for why policymaking often fails and why constituents, whatever their political affiliations, are so often disappointed with political leaders. In this primarily philosophical examination of his work, Hayek's ideas are not merely discussed, analysed, and contextualized, but extended; the book both draws and defends previously unrecognized implications from the Hayekian canon. The book also explores the historical context within which these ideas flourished. The book will be of interest to scholars and researchers of the works of F.A. Hayek, policymakers, and to those of all political, philosophical, and social-scientific persuasions"--. (shrink)
In just over 30 years, Geoff Hodgson has made substantial contributions to institutional economics, evolutionary economics, economic methodology, the history of economic thought and social theory. To mark his seminal work, this volume brings together original contributions by world-leading scholars in specific areas that have played a significant role in influencing his thinking or represent key debates to which he has contributed. Building on some of the most significant philosophical and methodological foundations underlying Hodgson's work, the volume is organised around (...) the recurring themes of institutions, evolution and capitalism. (shrink)
The paper considers the significance of F. A. Hayek’s writings on the study of complex phenomena for the study of the very complex phenom- ena of Hayek’s own life and career. It is argued that the methodological principle which Hayek recommended for the investigation of complex phenomena is applicable to explanations of his own intellectual develop- ment. Indeed, it is argued that the extent to which a Hayek scholar re- spects this principle in their attempts to explain Hayek’s life and (...) career is the first criterion by which such attempts should be evaluated. As Hayek himself might have put it, an explanation of some part of his career that neglects its inherent complexity is “probably merely of necessity false” (Hayek,  2014, 263). (shrink)
Research in the History of Economic Thought and Methodology (RHETM) is a journal/book series dedicated to an interdisciplinary approach to a broad range of topics related to the history and methodology of economics. Volumes are divided into four parts: a monothematic section dedicated to research articles focused on a particular issue in the journal’s core fields of interest, a section including research articles of a more general nature, a section of newly-discovered archival materials, and a section of review essays on (...) new works in the history and methodology of economics. Founded by Warren Samuels in 1982, Research in the History of Economic Thought and Methodology is one of the oldest publication outlets in the fields of economic methodology and the history of economic thought. (shrink)
La discusión acerca de los modelos en ciencias sociales, en particular en economía, es central a la disciplina, especialmente si se intenta mediante estas construcciones teóricas no sólo comprender sino también transformar el mundo social. ¿Qué son los modelos? ¿Para qué sirven? ¿Cómo tienen que ser? Estas preguntas se encuadran en la cuestión acerca de cómo tiene que ser la economía como ciencia en el marco de la epistemología de la economía. Popper, Lawson y Mӓki se plantean estas preguntas y (...) ofrecen posiciones diferentes respecto de la naturaleza, el uso, y el alcance de los modelos. Las propuestas de estos autores aportan en nuestro tiempo al debate acerca de cómo debe ser la economía como ciencia y sus métodos para poder explicar y predecir en el mundo social. (shrink)
Economics, as the volume editors Ivan Boldyrev and Ekaterina Svetlova submit, does not merely describe or explain, but also actively shapes—“performs”—the economy. This is how we may understand the performativity-of-economics thesis: Economists shape markets either directly, through the design of theories and policies based on them; or indirectly, through shaping cognitive infrastructures that economic agents use to make economic calculations, buy, and sell.
Whatever F.A. Hayek meant by “knowledge” could not have been the justified true belief conception common in the Western intellectual tradition from at least the time of Plato onward. In this brief note, I aim to uncover and succinctly state Hayek’s unique definition of knowledge.
F.A. Hayek essentially quit economic theory and gave up the phenomena of industrial fluctuations as an explicit object of theoretical investigation following the publication of his last work in technical economics, 1941’s The Pure Theory of Capital. Nonetheless, several of Hayek’s more methodologically-oriented writings bear important implications for economic phenomena, especially those of industrial fluctuations. Decisions (usually, for Hayek, of a political nature) taken on the basis of a “pretence” of knowledge impede the operation of the price system’s belief-coordinating function (...) and thereby contribute to episodes of economic disequilibrium. Moreover, this later account – which I call Hayek’s epistemic theory of industrial fluctuations – implies certain aspects of his earlier theory. The two accounts are connected in virtue of the role that ignorance and the limits of human knowledge play in each. Indeed, it turns out that – substantively, if not methodologically – Hayek’s early theory of the cycle is a special case of the more general epistemic account. (shrink)
F.A. Hayek argued that the sciences of complex phenomena, including (perhaps especially) economics, are limited to incomplete “explanations of the principle” and “pattern predictions.” According to Hayek, these disciplines suffer from (what I call) a data problem, i.e., the hopelessness of populating theoretical models with data adequate to full explanations and precise predictions. In Hayek’s terms, explanations in these fields are always a matter of “degree.” However, Hayek’s methodology implies a distinct theory problem: theoretical models of complex phenomena may be (...) underspecified so that, even were all the data available, a full explanation could not be inferred from the model. Where the sciences of complex phenomena are subject to both the data and theory problems, explanations and predictions will be of even lesser “predictive degree.” The paper also considers how to interpret Hayek’s claim that pattern predictions are falsifiable. (shrink)
In the wake of the global financial crisis of 2008, the greatest economic disaster since the Great Depression, the cover story of the July 18th 2009 issue of The Economist, entitled “What went wrong with economics,” opened with an unequivocally incriminating statement: “Of all the economic bubbles that have been pricked, few have burst more spectacularly than the reputation of economics itself.” In the months surrounding this indictment, many influential economists, including several Nobel laureates, were drawn to the same embarrassing (...) conclusion. Despite the existence of a handful of Cassandras, economists, as a group, had failed to foresee the crash. This short essay reviews the criticisms addressed to modern economic theory in the immediate aftermath of the crash. Overall, the main issues raised by critics were that (a) economists versed in the dominant models in macroeconomics and finance have been blinded to the possibility that we live in an uncertain and complex world; and (b) that the content of current economics education has sidelined many of the relevant insights to be found in the history of the discipline. This has led the critics to call for changes in the institutional structure of discipline, with a particular emphasis on the promotion of interdisciplinarity, and theoretical and methodological pluralism. (shrink)