A Macroeconomics Reader

By Brian Snowdon; Howard R. Vane | Go to book overview

4

Keynes’s General Theory

Interpreting the interpretations

Bill Gerrard

Economic Journal (1991) 101, March, pp. 276-87

Keynes’s General Theory has given rise to a variety of Keynesian research programmes. The development of these different Keynesian research programmes is well documented (see e.g. Coddington 1976; Gerrard 1988; Hamouda and Harcourt 1988 for surveys of Keynesian and post-Keynesian economics). However, less attention has been paid to explaining a striking feature of this Keynesian diversity, namely, the stress placed on discovering the real meaning of Keynes’s General Theory. The legitimacy of any particular Keynesian research programme has been judged with regard to the authenticity of its implied interpretation of Keynes. Inevitably this concern for authenticity has generated much controversy, enveloping Keynesian economics in a ‘doctrinal fog’ (Blaug 1980:221). This chapter attempts to pierce that Keynesian doctrinal fog. The central thesis is that the causes of the controversy surrounding Keynes’s General Theory lie, in part, in the different presuppositions made about the nature of interpretation. It is argued that much light can be shed on the Keynesian debate by drawing on the study of hermeneutics.

The structure of the chapter is as follows. The first section discusses the atomistic view of interpretation which is implicitly presupposed by most contributors to the Keynesian debate. Two variants of the atomistic view are considered: the objectivist/essentialist approach and the relativist approach. The second section provides an alternative presupposition, the organicist view of interpretation, as exemplified by Ricoeur’s dialectical approach in hermeneutics. The chapter concludes with a re-examination of the Keynesian debate in the light of the organicist view of interpretation.


THE ATOMISTIC VIEW OF INTERPRETATION

A principal aim of Keynesian economics has been to give a definitive answer to the question ‘What does Keynes’s General Theory really mean?’ Much of the resulting controversy arises from the nature of the question itself. In asking the question an atomistic view of interpretation is presupposed. The author, the text and the reader are treated as individual atomistic entities which are interrelated in a purely external manner: the author

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