Paul Samuelson expounds two major theses in his writings on methodology: the first is that economists should seek to discover ‘operationally meaningful theorems’; the second is that there is no explanation in science, only description. 1 Though his first thesis sounds like a statement of Percy Bridgman’s operationalism applied to economics, we will see that in its intent it more closely resembles Terence Hutchison’s methodology. In his second thesis, Samuelson does little more than mouth an anachronistic view of scientific explanation. Though his occasional forays into methodology are inconsequential when compared with Samuelson’s substantive work in economic theory, they have elicited a variety of critical responses, some of which stand as important contributions in their own right. In this chapter, I review both Samuelson’s work and critical essays by Fritz Machlup and Stanley Wong, and conclude with some comments on the variety of explanation in economics, with an emphasis on Institutional explanation, as described in a recent paper by Charles Wilber and Robert Harrison.
It was noted earlier that Percy Bridgman, the founder of operationalism, insisted that concepts which are to be permitted into the domain of scientific discourse must be definable by a specifiable set