Equilibrium versus Understanding: Towards the Restoration of Economics as Social Theory

By Mark Addleson | Go to book overview

5

INTERPRETATIVE UNDERSTANDING

Hermeneutics is no longer conceived as a subdiscipline of humanistic studies or even as the characteristic Method of the Geisteswissenschaften, but rather as pertaining to questions concerning what human beings are. We are ‘thrown’ into the world as beings who understand and interpret—so if we are to understand what it is to be human beings, we must seek to understand understanding itself, in its rich, full, and complex dimensions. Furthermore, understanding is not one type of activity to be contrasted with other human activities…. Understanding is universal and may properly be said to underlie and pervade all activities.

(Bernstein 1973:113-14)


THE EVOLUTION OF VERSTEHEN

The crux of this chapter is the relationship between the theorist and his subject matter. The object is to clarify the first-person perspective of subjectivism, as contrasted with the third-person perspective of positivistically inspired equilibrium theories, by examining how the conception of interpretative understanding (Verstehen) has altered within the subjectivist tradition. The changes are associated with different views about the nature and task of social science and, in particular, about the objectivity of social science. They also signify different views of the relationship between the theorist and his subject matter, and the analysis will help to identify the different views, and to contrast the relationship inherent in earlier forms of subjectivism with that of modern hermeneutics.

My interest is solely in ‘mainstream subjectivism’, the tradition of Verstehen that includes phenomenology, and in the work of contemporary hermeneutical writers that leads to the radical rejection of the epistemological basis of positivist science. The analysis specifically ignores contributions, such as that of Talcott Parsons, which make an effort to assimilate Verstehen into a positivistically inspired methodology. Because my standpoint is that subjectivism offers a serviceable, advantageous, and constructive foundation for social theories, there is no further reference to

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Equilibrium versus Understanding: Towards the Restoration of Economics as Social Theory
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Title Page iii
  • Contents vii
  • List of Figures ix
  • Acknowledgements x
  • Part 1 1
  • Introduction 3
  • 1 - Two Languages of Economic Theory 13
  • 2 - Neoclassical Methodology 34
  • 3 - The Practices of Neoclassicists 52
  • 4 - On Subjectivism 68
  • 5 - Interpretative Understanding 79
  • 6 - Austrian Economics and Subjectivism 97
  • 7 - Implications of Interpretative Understanding 116
  • Part 2 133
  • 8 - Models of Industrial Location 135
  • 9 - Location Theory as a Narrative 155
  • 10 - Decisions About Things in the World 170
  • 11 - Plans and Decisions as Understanding 182
  • 12 - Investment Decisions 195
  • 13 - Understanding and Locations 213
  • 14 - Retrospect and Prospect 231
  • Notes 241
  • References 266
  • Index 288
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