Investigating the Discourse of Economics (was Re: Sahlins)

Yoshie Furuhashi furuhashi.1 at
Thu Mar 11 18:28:13 PST 1999

Hi Rakesh & Doug:
>>By the way, I have quoted from Mattick Jr's book Social Knowledge on the
>>need for an anthropological investigation of the discourse of economics as
>>conceptually incoherent, internally contradictory, and empirically
>>disconfirmed but still so vital in the reproduction of a certain form of
>>social life that its absurdity is systematically not questioned.
>Yes, someone should definitely do this. Any volunteers here?

How about Tony Lawson's _Economics and Reality (Economics As Social Theory)_ (NY: Routledge, 1997)? He's a critical realist a la Roy Bhaskar. I don't have the time to summarize the book, but here's the table of contents.

Part I Science and economics 1 ENDURING TENSIONS AS POINTS OF DEPARTURE Inconsistency at the level of method Inconsistency at the level of social theory Inconsistency at the level of methodology 2 REALISM, EXPLANATION AND SCIENCE Realism Deductivism Empirical realism Transcendental realism Science, inference and law-statements Knowledge as a produced means of production 3 THE CASE FOR TRANSCENDENTAL REALISM Natural science: Bhaskar's inference from experiments Social science: inference from human intentionality Ontology and the epistemic fallacy Towards a distinctive science of society and economy 4 THE LEGACY OF POSITIVISM The failure of economics at the level of results Confusion at the level of method Problems in social theory A contradictory orientation to methodology 5 THE NATURE OF THE ARGUMENT The case against normative methodology A question of science Realism and science Transcendental analysis Explaining experimental activity The possibility of economics as science Human international agency Limits and limitations 6 TOWARDS A RICHER ONTOLOGY A stratified reality Negativity, intentional causality, emergence and internal-relationality Part II Problems of contemporary economics 7 ECONOMETRICS An absence of economic 'laws' The 'Lucas critique' Reactions to the 'Lucas critique' Systematic responses to generalised predictive failure Regularity stochasticism Extrinsic closure Intrinsic closure Aggregation Reinterpreting the 'Lucas critique' The fallacies of atomism and isolationism 8 ECONOMIC 'THEORY' Nominal features of the orthodox 'pure theory' project Changing features Explanatory failure Economic 'theory' and deductivism Generalist claims and the question of determinacy A deductivist tradition Regularity determinism Intrinsic closure Extrinsic closure Reinterpreting the 'theory' project Solution concepts Economic 'theory' as deductivism Competing interpretations Potentials and actualities Prospects 9 ALTERNATIVES AND/OR PRELIMINARIES TO SUCCESSFUL EXPLANATION Theorising as an alternative to explanation Theory as one-sided understanding Menger's defence of 'theory' Theoretical science and exact laws Exact laws of theoretical economics The nature of Menger's argument Unanswered questions Menger's account of natural science Menger's inferences for social science Theorising as a preliminary to successful explanation The method of successive approximation The method of isolation 10 SUBJECTIVISM Hayek's theory of knowledge and natural science Hayek's theory of knowledge and social science Social structure Hayek's hermeneuticised social science Social 'wholes' Foundationalism and Hayek's hermeneuticism Hayek's atomism The material embeddedness and intransitivity of society 11 THE LIMITS OF CONTEMPORARY ECONOMICS Consequences of a misconception of science A typology of responses to failure Part III Human agency and society 12 SOCIETY AND ECONOMY AS REPRODUCED INTER-DEPENDENCIES Critical realism Abandoning social atomism The routinisation of social life The irreducibility of social structure Social rules Social relations and societal practices Systems and collectivities The agency structure relationship Social change The relationship of social rules to positions 13 A SKETCH OF THE ACTING SUBJECT Intentionality Irreducibility and the phenomenon of emergence Tacit knowledge Unconsciousness Sameness and continuity Stability in the face of uncertainty Individuality Economic rationality Situated rationality Part IV Economic explanation 14 BROAD OBJECTIVES AND POSSIBLE OBSTACLES Broad aims The centrality of human practice Intrinsic limits to social science 15 ECONOMIC SCIENCE WITHOUT EXPERIMENTATION The hermeneutic moment in science Experimental and non-experimental conditions contrasted Interpreting partial event regularities Explaining the preponderance of demi-regs Contrastive demi-regs Contrastive demi-regs and science The detection of interesting demi-regs Science and scientific interests Inconsistency, surprise and criticism Causal hypotheses Explanatory power Problems in discriminating between theories Responses to explanatory failure Assessing the reality of a hypothesised mechanism The requirements of orthodox economics Pure and applied explanation Economics as an empirical and abstract science The apparent failures of social research including economics 16 ABSTRACTION Abstraction and critical realism The vantage point The level of generality The scope or extension Abstraction and generalisation Abstraction and economic 'modelling' 17 ON TRUTH IN ECONOMICS The nature of truth Objective truth Truth as an expressive-referential dual Criteria of truth Judgemental rationality Falsity and sheer error Truth and economic 'modelling' 18 ILLUSTRATION Path-dependence Functionalism and mainstream theory The economy as an open system Britain's relative productivity performance as a contrastive demi-reg The nature of the explanation Explaining the explanation 'Origins' of the explanation Tendencies towards 'lock-in' Social reproduction/transformation as an ex posteriori contrastive phenomenon Conditions for social reproduction Relative continuity as an ex posteriori production/achievement The explanation in broader perspective The partiality of all explanation Part V Economic policy and forecasting 19 ECONOMIC POLICY AND INTENDED CHANGE Orthodoxy, economic policy and change Critical realism, economic policy and change Conditions of social emancipation 20 ECONOMIC SCIENCE AND PREDICTION The basic thesis Omissions Consequences The preoccupation with prediction


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