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

IV The Scope of Economics and Sociology

INTRODUCTION

In the introductory chapter (pp. 25-26) I mentioned that both Comte and the German economists attacked classical economics as speculative and unrealistic, although their reasons for doing so differed. As far as I am able to determine, the critique of classical economics was based on two distinct methodological issues, which were never clearly distilled by the participants in the polemic. One issue, relevant to the problem of scope, was whether specialized disciplines were valid in the social sciences. Comte and many of the German writers denied the validity of specialized analytical disciplines in the social sciences for reasons which will be considered in this chapter.1 Another methodological issue involved in the polemic was the distinction between the methodologies of the physical and social sciences. In the following chapter I shall examine the problem of the validity of theoretical generalizations in the social sciences.

If the arguments of Comte and the German writers were accepted, the problem of delimiting the scope of any specialized discipline would not exist, since there could only be one unified social science. If their views on scope were denied, then the question would arise: precisely what is the subject of study for each of the specialized disciplines? In other words, one would be presented with the problem of delimiting the boundaries of the individual social sciences. These two problems -- specialized disciplines versus the conception of

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1
Comte and most of the German economists were reformers. Historically, reformers have had a tendency to prefer broad scope, i.e., political, ethical, etc., as well as economic. In this chapter the main concern is with the methodological basis for writers' views on scope.

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