What is economics for?

In Peter Rona, Laszlo Zolnai & Agnieszka Wincewicz-Price (eds.), Words, Objects and Events in Economics: The Making of Economic Theory (2020)
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The methodological foundations of any scientific discipline are shaped by the goals towards which that discipline is aiming. While it is almost universally accepted that the goals of explanation and prediction of natural and non-human phenomena have been met with great success since the scientific revolution, it is almost just as universally accepted that the social sciences have not even come close to achieving these goals. This raises the question addressed in this paper, namely, what is economics, and social science more broadly speaking, for? What is their aim, and how is it similar and dissimilar to that of the natural sciences as we have come to classify them? I take up this question from a pragmatic perspective in this paper, setting economics within the wider context of social inquiry. Specifically, I turn to Hilary Putnam and John Dewey as exemplars of the pragmatic critique of any economics that sees its goals in line with those of the natural sciences, that is, as aiming for explanation and prediction according to governing laws of human behaviour. NB: this is a preprint that underwent some minor edits.

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Brendan Hogan
New York University


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