Beyond Positivism: Economic Methodology in the Twentieth Century

Beyond Positivism: Economic Methodology in the Twentieth Century

Beyond Positivism: Economic Methodology in the Twentieth Century

Beyond Positivism: Economic Methodology in the Twentieth Century


Since its publication in 1982, Beyond Positivism has become established as one of the definitive statements on economic methodology. The book's rejection of positivism and its advocacy of pluralism were to have a profound influence in the flowering of work methodology that has taken place in economics in the decade since its publication. This edition contains a new preface outlining the major developments in the area since the book's first appearance.

The book provides the first comprehensive treatment of twentieth century philosophy of science which emphasizes the issues relevant to economics. It proceeds to demonstrate this relevance by reviewing some of the key debates in the area. Having concluded that positivism has to be rejected, the author examines possible alternative bases for economic methodology. Arguing that there is no best method, he advocates methodological pluralism.


It is indeed a pleasure to be writing a preface for a new printing by Routledge of Beyond Positivism. the reprinting of the book suggests that recent interest among economists in methodological studies may be something more than a transitory phenomena.

The current situation is relatively new. I began working in the area of economic methodology as a graduate student in the mid-1970s. At the time it was a very underdeveloped field. There were no texts written for economists to explain the (then, mostly philosophical) issues that one would continually encounter in the widely scattered literature on economic methodology. Beyond Positivism was written in part to fill that gap: that is why Part One is devoted to a survey of those philosophical topics which seemed to me at the time to be of the most direct concern to economists interested in methodology.

In the course of my studies, it soon became apparent that a revolution of sorts had taken place within the philosophy of science. the bundle of doctrines that might loosely be labeled ‘positivism’ had been overthrown, and no heir was apparent. As is shown in Part Two, a command over the earlier philosophical literature enables one to understand better the methodological writings of men like Lionel Robbins, T. W. Hutchison, Fritz Machlup, Milton Friedman and Paul Samuelson. But it was much less clear what set of doctrines might eventually replace positivism. My reaction to the disarray in philosophy is contained in Part Three. a kind of ‘wait and see’ attitude, one in which toleration of alternative approaches and a readiness to engage in various forms of criticism, is endorsed there. I labeled this position ‘methodological pluralism’.

Beyond Positivism was first published in 1982 and reflects work undertaken in the preceding seven years. At the time I had little reason to believe that more than a handful of economists would share my interest in economic methodology. Virtually overnight, however, things changed. As the decade turned, a number of books on various aspects of the subject came into print (e.g., Blaug, 1992 [1980]; Katousian 1980; Hausman, 1981; Boland, 1982; Klant, 1984 [1979]). a research annual with the word ‘methodology’ in its title appeared (Samuels, 1983). This was quickly followed by three edited collections of articles, a sure sign that at least certain publishers anticipated the formation of a viable market (Marr and Raj, 1983; Caldwell, 1984; Hausman, 1994 [1984]). Finally, in 1985 the journal Economics and Philosophy began publication. the growth of the

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