on September 30, 1999
This is probably the best introduction and overview to a broad range of philosophical concerns within the discipline of economics. It is accessible to the lay reader but is not dumbed down in order to be popular. It does not require any particular knowledge of economic theory but instead deals with general philosohical and methodological issues in economics. Nonetheless, the reader is engaged with key methodological debates within the discipline of economics.
The book implicitly contains a number of critiques of the (neoclassical) economic orthodoxy, set in their historical perspective. The basic concern of the book is with the influence of logical positivism and its descendants on economic theorising and accepted methodologies, and the book concludes with Caldwell's suggesting an approach to resolving many of these issues, called "methodological pluralism".
If you are interested in examining the philosophical foundations of economics, this is probably the best book around. If you are interested in the philosophy of economics, there is also a reader entitled "The Philosophy of Economics" by Daniel Hausman which would make a good companion. "Why Economics is not yet a Science", Alfred Eichner, 1983 is an interesting questioning of approaches and methodologies in economics. If you are interested in alternatives to mainstream economic approaches, then "A Modern Guide to Economic Thought" by Maire and Miller, 1991 is a good introduction (aimed at an interested university undergraduate without necessarily having a strong current background in economics studies).
There is also a large literature on the sociology of economics, examining how the discipline of economics adapts to new ideas and criticisms. "Canonizing Economic Theory : How Theories and Ideas Are Selected in Economics", Christopher D. MacKie, ME Sharpe, 1998 is a good starting point for this.
on February 21, 2002
The author had two broad objectives in this book. The first was to provide a critique of positivism, including logical positivism, logical empiricism, operationalism and falsificationism. The second was to identify the implications of this critique for economic methodology.
The first part of the book describes the role of the Vienna Circle in the rise of logical positivism during the 1920s and 1930s, followed by the maturation of the tradition in the form of logical empiricism, then the philosophical attack and the emergence of the "growth of knowledge" tradition with Popper, Kuhn, Lakatos and Feyerabend.
The second part of the book consists of essays on various aspects of positivism and alternative approaches including the "Austrian" approach of Robins and Machlup (each pitted against Hutchison), Friedman's instrumentalism and Samuelson's "descriptivism".
The third part provides some provisional answers, notably a case for methodological pluralism.
In view of the way that positivism dominated the philosophy of science during the 20th century this scholarly appraisal of the rise and fall of the movement is a valuable contribution to the history of ideas. However as a contribution to contemporary thinking on these matters it would have been a more original and challenging enterprise if positivism had not already been devastated by Popper, who replaced justificationism and inductivism with critical rationalism and the non-authoritarian theory of knowledge.
This is a new edition of Caldwell's 1982 book but it is not really revised and so it does not do justice to his "mature" thinking which can be found in an article "clarifying Popper" in the Journal of Economic Literature, March 1991. This article draws on Popper's theory of metaphysical research programs and shows that when he is depicted as a critical rationalist instead of a falsificationist, several pieces of the jigsaw fall into place, including Popper's re-invention of "Austrian" praxeology and Talcott Parsons' "action frame of reference" under the heading of "situational analysis".
It seems that the field of economic methodology has been unduly influenced by Mark "Bluster" Blaug's commitment to Lakatos rather than Popper, to "falsificationism" rather than critical rationalism and to the Kuhn/Lakatos notion of research programs with inviolable "hard cores" rather than the Popperian program which subjects "hard cores" to critical appraisal. Lakatos, as a Hegelian, attempted a synthesis of Popper and Kuhn, to capture the Spirit of the Age, as it was, becoming in the process a Historical Figure. This grand scheme did not work out and the tormented progress of the Lakatosian World Spirit continued to cause confusion on several continents (and in the isles of Greece) even after Lakatos himself had gone.
When the idea of Popper as a critical rationalist is taken on board, as Caldwell appeared to be doing in his "clarification" paper, then some really interesting results emerge, as indicated by Boland in 1982. It may be that the real impediment to progress in economics is not the failure to be serious about falsification (as Blaug has argued) but the failure to recognize that the real driving forces in methodology are Instrumentalism (as per Friedman) and Conventionalism (as per Samuelson). These need to be subjected to critical appraisal, in the context of ongoing research, not merely as a part of the history of ideas.
In this book Caldwell has shown a remarkable open-mindedness to the much-maligned ideas of the Austrians. This would have taken a deal of nerve in view of the hard things that are said about them by his peers and by luminaries such as Samuelson. (There again, it was Samuelson who, up to the Fall of the Wall, thought that the Soviet economy was doing well and catching up fast with the US). Similarly, it was bold to champion Popper's ideas on the metaphysical aspects of scientific research programs. This is exciting stuff and one hopes that Caldwell is prepared to continue the maturation process that was apparent in his article, even to the extent of producing a seriously revised edition of this book.