Pareto's Methodological Approach to Economics: A Study in the History of Some Scientific Aspects of Economic Thought

By Vincent J. Tarascio | Go to book overview

I Introduction

The more common approach to the study of economic thought has been through examination of the economic doctrines written and taught by economists, or through the study of certain analytical aspects of these doctrines. Schumpeter's monumental work, History of Economic Analysis, is essentially a study in the history of the analytical aspects of economic science.1 One need only contrast this work with that of Gide and Rist, A History of Economic Doctrines, to appreciate the differences of approach and emphasis in the study of the history of economic thought.2 On the other hand, discussions of scope and method have been carried on rather independently of doctrine, the concern often being an attempt to resolve differences as to the "proper" scientific method in economics.3 In any case, the methodological interpretation of the procedures used by an author has received very little attention in the history of economic thought. The assumption seems to be that, given a mastery of the theoretical tools of economics, the economic doctrines of an author are plain for everyone to see. Unfortunately this belief is erroneous, for a failure to understand an author's views on scope and method often results in a failure to understand the economic doctrines themselves.4 This is so

____________________
1
Joseph Schumpeter, History of Economic Analysis ( New York: Oxford University Press, 1954). Of course, Schumpeter's work does not ignore doctrinal or methodological aspects. However, his main interest is in the development of economic analysis.
2
Charles Gide and Charles Rist, A History of Economic Doctrines, trans. R. Richards ( 2nd ed.; Boston: D. C. Heath & Co., 1948).
3
Unfortunately, the fact that discussions on scope and method have been carried on independently of economic doctrine has often resulted in the attitude among economists that such discussions have little to offer and are a waste of time.
4
For example, I shall show that Pareto's distinction between "ophelimity" and "utility" has been overlooked by historians of economic thought because of their failure to understand his methodology. Also, I shall show that the supporters and critics of his so-called "refutation" of the marginal productivity theory seem to have imputed more to Pareto than he had in mind, for the same reason. However, the technical aspects of Pareto's economics and sociology are only of secondary importance in this study since such discussions serve merely as illustrations of his methodology.

-3-

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