Malthus and Ricardo on Economic Methodology

History of Political Economy 28 (3):475-511 (1996)
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Abstract
The paper is a comparative study of the methodologies of Malthus and Ricardo. Its claims are: (i) economic laws almost always admit of exceptions for Malthus; for Ricardo even contingent predictions allow no exception apart from random temporary variations; (ii) both rely on the prestigious Newtonian paradigm, while interpreting it according to two distinct methodological traditions (the one deriving from MacLaurin, the other from Priestley); (iii) the choice of stressing what happens during intervals or in permanent states leads to opposing definitions of the main problem of economic science in so far as equilibrium is always already given for Ricardo and is never given for Malthus; (iv) their use of the ambiguous notion of "tendency" leaves unclear for both the degree of predictive power with which theories are endowed; (v) what both share is the idea of a natural order and this idea is the source of both shortcomings and endless disagreement.
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