Malthus and Ricardo: Two styles for Economic Theory

Science in Context 11 (2):229-254 (1998)
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We examine the most famous controversy between economists as a means of shedding fresh light on the current debate about economic methodology. By focusing on the controversy as the primary unit of analysis, we show how methodological considerations are but one of a whole set of stratagems strategically employed by each opponent. We argue that each opponent's preference for a particular kind of stratagems expresses his own specific scientific style (within the general scientific and cultural style of an age). We also describe a dynamic dimension of the controversy, independent of the participants' intentions. Such a dimension is analysed in a "cycle" of the controversy, which begins with a well-defined issue and expands to additional topics, without reaching a "solution" to the initial issue. The definition and re-definition of the issue(s) at stake and of the difference between both participants is an essential and recurrent feature of such cycles; the conclusion of a cycle does not imply a real "closure" of the controversy, but only that each opponent has reached a satisfying degree of self-clarification. The controversy, thus, does not yield persuasion -- its ostensible aim. Rather, its "benefit" seems to lie in an unintended result -- clarification and deepening of contrasting approaches to the discipline -- due to its peculiar dynamics. In so far as the history of a discipline requires a reconstruction of such contrasts, it is indispensable for it to take into account the controversies where they emerge, and to view both the positive doctrines and the methodological posture of the contenders as parts of a wider framework, that is a scientific style.

Author Profiles

Marcelo Dascal
Last affiliation: Tel Aviv University
Sergio Volodia Marcello Cremaschi
Università Cattolica di Milano (PhD)


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