Economic Methodology in Erkenntnis
| Nicolai Foss |
Economic methodology, or, meta-theoretical discussion of (and in) economics, has gone significantly beyond with theme that many practicing economists associate with the field, namely the realism-of-assumptions theme prompted by Friedman’s famous 1953 essay, “The Methodology of Positive Economics.” Of course that theme is by no means unimportant, and it has, of course, resurfaced under the impact of the financial crisis.
However, the main themes of the current economic methodology discussion have shifted from the role of assumptions to economic models in their entirety. Two main perspectives are sometimes distinguished, namely the “isolationists” who literally see economic models as simplified redescriptions of the mechanisms and causal factors of the real world, and the “fictionalists” who, as the name indicate, ascribe much less realism to models and think of them as purely mental laboratories that may still, however, allow for certain inferences to the real world.
The January 2009 issue of Erkenntnis: An International Journal of Analytical Philosophy is a special issue, edited by Till Grüne-Yanoff, dedicated to exploring these two positions, and entitled “Economic Models as Credible Worlds or as Isolating Tools?” Among the heavyweight contributors are Robert Sugden, Uskali Mäki, and Nancy Cartwright. I particularly liked Mäki’s argument that the two positions are in actually very close rather than opposed. Highly recommended for those who want to acquaint themselves with frontier issues in economic methodology.