Revue Philosophique De Louvain 116 (2):151–186 (2018)

Philippe Mongin
Centre National de la Recherche Scientifique
Abstract: Economists are accustomed to distinguishing between a positive and a normative component of their work, a distinction that is peculiar to their field, having no exact counterpart in the other social sciences. The distinction has substantially changed over time, and the different ways of understanding it today are reflective of its history. Our objective is to trace the origins and initial forms of the distinction, from the English classical political economy of the first half of the 19th century to the emergence of welfare economics in the first half of the 20th century. This sequential account will also serve to identify the main representative positions along with the arguments used to support them, and it thus prepares the ground for a discussion that will be less historical and more strictly conceptual. Résumé : Les économistes ont coutume de distinguer entre une composante positive et une composante normative de leurs travaux, ce qui est une singularité de leur discipline, car cette distinction n'a pas de répondant exact dans les autres sciences sociales. Elle a fortement évolué au cours du temps et les différentes manières de la concevoir aujourd'hui en reflètent l'histoire. On se propose ici d'en retracer les origines et les premières formes, de l'économie politique classique anglaise de la première moitié du XIXe siècle jusqu'à l'apparition de l'économie du bien-être dans la première moitié du XXe siècle. Ce parcours séquentiel vise aussi à identifier les positions les plus représentatives et les arguments invoqués pour les soutenir, en préparant ainsi une discussion qui serait moins historique et plus strictement conceptuelle.
Keywords positive and normative distinction  positive and normative economics  value judgments  Hume's thesis  objectivity in Weber's sense  welfare economics  John Stuart Mill  John Neville Keynes  Lionel Robbins
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Utilitarianism.J. S. Mill - 1861/1998 - Oxford University Press UK.
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