There is a systematic and unquestioning tendency, observable in the social sciences, and especially of late in economics (Lawson 1997; Fullbrook 2004), toward considering formal models as superior, as somehow more scientific than other non-formal methods. There is a further resulting tendency for other social sciences to emulate economics’ methodological orientation. My concern here is manifold. First, to the extent that the alleged superiority of formalism results in an anti-pluralistic methodological orientation, intellectual progress is being thwarted. Second, in so far as the specific methodology is spreading across the social sciences, the phenomenon merits added attention. Third, questions of methodology, though central to good scientific inquiry, are too often relegated to “lofty” philosophers of science. I take the opportunity to reaffirm their relevance. I explore possible problems with formalism in the social sciences, particularly as formulated by the Critical Realist and/or Cambridge School. My hope is that social scientists may increasingly see that their plight is not isolated and discipline-specific, but is resolutely an increasing interdisciplinary phenomenon. Finally, I hope to encourage the social scientific community to (re-)engage in methodological reflexivity and to produce a united effort to protect intellectual freedom as a condition for scientific progress.
- social sciences