Expectations and the Meaning of Institutions: Essays in Economics

By Don Lavoie; Ludwig Lachmann | Go to book overview

17

G.L.S.SHACKLE'S PLACE IN THE HISTORY OF SUBJECTIVIST THOUGHT [1990]

SHACKLE'S PHILOSOPHICAL APPROACH TO ECONOMICS

Most of us are familiar with an experience that, baffling and discouraging as it is in the narrower context of expounding subjectivist doctrine, points to the existence of a deeper problem pertaining to the way in which economists understand their own role. The experience is this: having referred a friend or student to Shackle's work, one is told after a time that, gratifying and exciting as the experience was, the reader found it hard to see what all this had to do with the daily concerns of economists.

There is of course an obvious answer to this view. Such readers would suffer from much too narrow a conception of the task of economics. Undeniably we face a problem here. Today's narrowness of professional outlook few would have tolerated fifty years ago. If this statement is correct, where is a remedy to be found? But let us first take our bearings.

For all this narrowing of outlook, the problem is not a new one. In 1926, in what in the Shackleian calendar we must reckon as the first Year of High Theory, the Oxford philosopher R.G. Collingwood wrote in a paper entitled 'Economics as a Philosophical Science':

Philosophical thought is that which conceives its object as activity, empirical thought is that which conceives its object as substance or thing. Economics, then, is an empirical science if it is conceived as the study of a thing called wealth; philosophical if it is conceived as the study of economic action. But it is not enough, to make a science philosophical,

-241-

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