This paper provides my reflections on the state of economic methodology and philosophy of economics as of the beginning of 2020 following the end of a fifteen year co-editorship of the Journal of Economic Methodology with Wade Hands. It looks at how economic methodology and philosophy of economics, as a meta-field type of research, has changed since it emerged as a distinct subfield in economics in the 1980s. Using an evolution of technology analysis, it distinguishes two different possible scenarios for the field’s future according to environmental factors operating upon it and how specialization in research may affect both it and economics, and then makes a crossdisciplinarity argument for its further development as a diverse, pluralistic domain of research.
Heterodox economists, along with many non-economists, have often leveled charges of ideological bias against mainstream economics and economists. This paper considers some of these charges, arguing that most heterodox arguments about the mainstream’s ideological bias are not persuasive. An argument can, however, be made that the mainstream is unintentionally ideologically biased because it supports the status quo without taking a position on whether there is an alternative position that is preferable. Ironically, the reason that mainstream economics can be considered ideologically biased is that it works so hard at avoiding considering ideological issues.
A conceptual system defines, at the exclusion of others, a point of view toward its object of enquiry. The conceptual systems of the human sciences relate to their objects of enquiry in two ways that invite them to play an ideological function as well as an epistemological one. First, a social-science conceptual system can alter the objects of its enquiry by becoming part of the conceptual and belief apparatus through which humans define themselves, perceive others and make choices, thereby changing the structures and propensities of the human world. Second, unlike the natural sciences, the human sciences are ultimately a means from on high of preserving or reconstructing the basic realities that they study, these in total being the human project. Different conceptual systems present different sets of choices, real or imagined, to be chosen and acted upon by human populations at large. It can never be the case that each of these sets of choices will equally favour every group in society. This means that, regardless of value judgments, it is the nature of all social theorizing, economics being no exception, to favour some groups in society over others, so that any attempt to block enquiry and analysis from multiple theoretical perspectives, i.e., anti-pluralism, is an ideological move.
The « juste » institutions of a liberal democracy are not enought to guarantee its stability at a time of growing cultural diversity. They have to gain citizens’ allegiances in the long term in spite of their conflicting comprehensive doctrines. This can only be achieved, according to Rawls, by founding political consensus not on one single conception of the good, as was the case in « classical » liberalism, which would alienate and disregard the other competing views, but by « neutral » principles of justice derived from a political conception of the person. The paper will show that, far from weakening citizens’ participation, a Rawlsian conception of citizenship can be reconstructed. The strength of Rawls’ position as examined through his debate with Habermas, is to provide us with a view of the self and of citizenship that parallels, within the self, the pluralist nature of post-modern society.
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.