Beyond Positivism: Economic Methodology in the Twentieth Century

By Bruce J. Caldwell | Go to book overview

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Introduction

When you are criticizing the philosophy of an epoch, do not chiefly direct your attention to those intellectual positions which its exponents feel it necessary explicitly to defend. There will be some fundamental assumptions which adherents of all the variant systems within the epoch unconsciously presuppose. Such assumptions appear so obvious that people do not know what they are assuming because no other way of putting things has ever occurred to them. With these assumptions a certain limited number of types of philosophical systems are possible, and this group of systems constitutes the philosophy of the epoch.

Alfred North Whitehead—Science and the Modern World (1925)

The study of methodology is an agonizing task; writing a book on the subject requires the skills of an individual who is at once presumptuous and masochistic. By the very nature of methodological work, solutions to important problems seldom seem to exist. One’s thinking on a particular subject is never complete; indeed, it is more likely that one’s opinion will change often through time, and sometimes change dramatically. Even more troublesome, the prolonged study of methodology forces a person to examine his or her own preconceptions, to see why certain ideas make sense, and why others seem so patently absurd. Nor is that self-examination a simple task, since preconceptions are not truly prior to experience, but invariably reflect both the material studied and the process involved in its study.

One preconception of mine that is admittedly unoriginal is that there is no single infallible method: there is no ‘best way’ waiting out there to be discovered, neither in the form of some Platonic ideal, nor by the careful objective study of the history of method. Rather, I am a methodological pluralist, by which I mean that, just

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