Realism and antirealism about economics

In Handbook of the Philosophy of Economics. pp. 3--24 (2012)
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Abstract

Economics is a controversial scientific discipline. One of the traditional issues that has kept economists and their critics busy is about whether economic theories and models are about anything real at all. The critics have argued that economic models are based on assumptions that are so utterly unrealistic that those models become purely fictional and have nothing informative to say about the real world. Many also claim that an antirealist instrumentalism (allegedly outlined by Milton Friedman in 1953) justifying such unrealistic models has become established as the semi-official practitioners' philosophy of conventional economics. Others argue that what is the case in the economy and the way economics relates to it are socially constructed such that there is no economics-independent way the world worls or truths about it. On both of these pictures, realism would seem to have little do with economics. These pictures are too simplistic. There is more realism in and about economics than first would appear. To see this requires not just looking mere closely, but also adjusting one's conception of scientific realism. It also requires taking a critical stance on much of what economicsts themselves and other commentators have claimed. Yet, historically, there is much wisdom available in the philosophical self-image of the discipline.

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Uskali Mäki
University of Helsinki

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