Canonizing Economic Theory: How Theories and Ideas Are Selected in Economics

Canonizing Economic Theory: How Theories and Ideas Are Selected in Economics

Canonizing Economic Theory: How Theories and Ideas Are Selected in Economics

Canonizing Economic Theory: How Theories and Ideas Are Selected in Economics

Synopsis

Historians of economic thought traditionally summarize, critique, and trace the development of existing theory. History of thought literature provides information about the authors, chronology, and relative importance of influential works. Generally missing from the literature, however, are answers to questions about why economic theory exists in its current form: Why have economists chosen the theories they have to represent the discipline's formal content? What are the criteria that determine the value of a theory, or of research in general; and, how have these criteria changed over time? In this insightful and well-written work, Christopher Mackie analyzes how ideas and theories are accepted in economics, from the pre-publication phase to the point at which, once written, a theory enters the accepted body of professional literature. Drawing from economics, the history of science, and philosophy, Mackie shows how both empirical and non-empirical criteria determine how theory will actually evolve.

Excerpt

The traditional role for historians of economic thought has been to summarize, critique, and trace the development of existing theory. History of thought literature provides valuable information pertaining to the authors, chronology, and relative importance of influential works. Far less effort has been exerted toward answering questions about why economic theory exists in its current form: Why have economists chosen the theories they have, which now represent the discipline's formal content? What are the criteria that determine the value of a theory, or of research in general, and how have these criteria changed over time? Economic methodologists, drawing from philosophy of science, have certainly commented on theory choice issues, and their ideas will be considered. However, a more complete investigation is shown to be needed.

Purpose of This Book

The objective of this study is to analyze the nature of research appraisal and theory selection in economics. This necessarily entails inquiry into how economists view their method of studying human behavior and how they establish the validity of the theories they have chosen to use. Additionally, a systematic study into the variables that have historically influenced those choices is required.

Note that the primary emphasis here is not with individual theorists' thought processes, which determine the nature and guide the production of their work. Instead, the concern is with how a work, once written (that is, once it has achieved an objective existence), enters the accepted--and propagated--body of professional literature. John Maynard Keynes's macroeconomic theory can be used to illustrate the distinction: His particular view of the world, shaped by an uncountable combination of influences along with his own unique intellect, somehow motivated him to write The General Theory . . .

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