Academic journal article The American Journal of Economics and Sociology

The Uses of Authority in Economics: Shared Intellectual Frameworks as the Foundation of Personal Persuasion

Academic journal article The American Journal of Economics and Sociology

The Uses of Authority in Economics: Shared Intellectual Frameworks as the Foundation of Personal Persuasion

Article excerpt


ABSTRACT. Why do economists believe what they believe? Why do they not all believe the same things? Our answer to these questions revolves around the nature, variety, and uses of authority in economics. Our data are the various frameworks that economists, knowingly and unknowingly, employ to formulate their questions and organize their intellectual endeavors. We call these devices patristic traditions, or cultural and intellectual frameworks, or governing legacies, or several other phrases. They all connote authority systems, traceable to specific intellectual or cultural precursors, or authorities. Our central proposition is that the specific set of governing legacies that each individual economist possesses effectively guides his or her thinking. By recognizing these authorities we can more effectively understand others' minds, understand our own, and increase our ability to persuade. So our propositions concern the uses of authorities--how economists of the past have used them and how we ourselves use them , but especially how we might use them to productive ends.


The Authorities Approach

Nosce teipsum, Read thy self.

Hobbes, Leviathan, 1651

THE CENTRAL QUESTION of intellectual authority is about persuasion. On what grounds are we persuaded by or convinced of a proposition? [1] Some people are essentially convinced by observation; for them Francis Bacon's ordered method is preferred. They believe most easily what they pick up with their five senses, and are dubious of propositions without such evidence. Others think in terms of logical syllogism; for them the Cartesian system, when it can be applied, offers certainty. For these scholars the test of immanent criticism (logical consistency) is conclusive. Reason is often held up as a third standard-a combination of empiricism, logic, and reference to other authorities. It can be seen as a mental process of weighing evidence, but it is also the specific idea, generally traced to the European and Scottish Enlightenment, that a proposition must be demonstrated and coherently argued, not believed out of emotional or especially religious conviction. These three standards--cognition, logic, and reason--a re authorities. In addition to these three methods, however, there is a fourth means of demonstrating a proposition, not as often recognized as the first three, but we believe more pervasive.

The fourth authority is our individual cultural and intellectual matrix, which comprises our basic mental frameworks, These legacies of the cultural and intellectual past (the air we breathed in during our youth and education) form a set of individual authorities. This fourth means of persuasion is the essence of the legacies approach. We employ several phrases for this central idea: authorities; patristic traditions; patristic legacies; cultural and intellectual legacies; governing legacies; cultural and intellectual frameworks; authority frameworks; mindsets; or even intellectual baggage. Each phrase refers to the working matrix of one's mind.

The authorities approach is based on a greater appreciation of the influence of one's individual matrix of governing legacies. [2] Perhaps even more so than with the authorities of cognition, logic, and reason, many people are convinced by an argument when it is consistent with their other beliefs. They are comfortable with cultural and intellectual consistency. [3] Governing legacies is our term for the individual concepts that form one's mental set (the testing ground for this consistency). Individual legacies may be a reference to a person, a definitive published work, or an interpretation of a seminal thought. Examples include not only empiricism, logic, and reason, but a myriad of others such as scarcity, property rights, Natural Law, Hobbesian force or Utilitarianism. In our view they are more the organization of our own minds projected outward rather than, as many people assume, our collected observations condensed and internalized. …

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