One of the most attractive features of logical empiricism was that it seemed to provide rigorous and objective formulas for identifying legitimate scientific procedure. The H-D model prescribed the structure and logical status of theories and theoretical terms; the covering-law models dictated which explanations were to qualify as scientific; and confirmationism provided criteria for the appraisal of theories. In a phrase, the logical empiricist program had prescriptive force.
As was shown in Chapter 4, the entirety of logical empiricism fell prey to extensive and severe criticism within the philosophy of science in the 1950s and 1960s. If the current climate of opinion continues, logical empiricism can no longer be considered a viable framework for explicating and assessing scientific activity. The question arises: Is there an equally prescriptively robust program to take the place of logical empiricism? If so, what is it; and if not, should other alternatives be considered?
Economists have generally neglected the topics of theory form and structure and the nature of scientific explanation in their methodological writings. (The exceptions are those analyses of explanation reviewed in Chapter 9. ) The same cannot be said regarding the problem of theory appraisal. Indeed, much of the literature in economic methodology involves, either explicitly or implicitly, the defense or critique of various methods of theory assessment. As such, the question of whether prescriptive methodology is possible in economics turns on the question: Do objective canons of theory appraisal exist in economics?
In this chapter the philosophical issues are reviewed. The general conclusions can be stated in advance: no algorithm of choice exists;