Economic Theory, Ideal Types, and Rationality

Analyse & Kritik 4 (1):22-38 (1982)

Contemporary economic theory is generally regarded as a scientific or at least potentially so. The replacing of the cardinal theory of utility measurement by the ordinal theory was supposed to prepare the groundwork for economics as a genuine science. But in adopting the ordinal approach, theorists saw fit to anchor ordinal theory to axioms of choice founded on principles of rational behavior. Behavior according to these axioms was embodied in the ideal type model of rational economic man. This model served the basis for scientific explanation of the choices made by actual economic agents. I argue though that the postulate of rationality is a normative principle and that this compromises the scientific pretensions of economic theory. Yet the theorist must rely on this principle to formulate predictive and explanatory theories. This raises questions as to whether it is possible that economic theory satisfy the same kind of scientific criteria set down for research in the natural sciences
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DOI 10.1515/auk-1982-0102
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