Beyond Positivism: Economic Methodology in the Twentieth Century

By Bruce J. Caldwell | Go to book overview

13

A Program for Economic Methodologists—Methodological Pluralism

The most significant contribution of the growth of knowledge philosophers was the demonstration that the quest for a single, universal, prescriptive scientific methodology is quixotic. Confirmationism provides no logically compelling algorithm of choice. Instrumentalism is viable only in those situations in which predictive adequacy is the sole goal. And Popper’s falsificationism, though it recognizes the problem of induction and seeks only to eliminate error, runs into problems in application when interpreted strictly, and loses prescriptive force when interpreted loosely. That these philosophical matters have direct application in economics was demonstrated in the last chapter.

Such findings challenge the long-held views that scientific activity is best distinguishable by the rigor and objectivity of its methods, and that science progresses by the gradual accumulation of true knowledge, either in the form of brute, atomic facts or in the form of theories whose structural characteristics mimic an objectively discernable phenomenal reality. The growth of knowledge tradition emphasizes that science is a dynamic, growing enterprise, that its growth cannot be described by a straight line, that its impressive successes are not due to its having followed immutable and objective procedures. The story of science involves both constancy and flux, both bold conjectures and rigorous criticism, both normal science and revolutionary crisis. The positivist fixation on the objective side of science missed half of a beautiful and complex tale.

What is the role of the methodologist in this new environment? Clearly, it is not to discover some universal method. Yet other significant tasks can be attempted. A partial listing of these would

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