Universals and the methodenstreit: a re-examination of Carl Menger's conception of economics as an exact science

Studies in History and Philosophy of Science Part A 28 (3):475-495 (1997)
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In the latter half of the 19th century, economic thought in the Germanspeaking world was dominated, both intellectually and academically, by the so-called historical school, from Wilhelm Roscher to Gustav Schmoller and others. In 1871, the Austrian Carl Menger published his Grun&tze der Volkswirtschaftslehre (Menger, 1976 (1871)), customarily referred to as one of the three simultaneous discoveries of marginalist economics-the other two marginalist ‘revolutionaries’ being Jevons in England and Walras in France. Twelve years later, in 1883, Menger published a major methodological treatise entitled Untersuchungen iiber die Methode der Socialwissenschaften und der Politischen Oekonomie insbesondere (Menger, 1963 (1883)). This book included criticisms of some of the historicist principles of doing economics. In the same year, Schmoller, leader of the German historicists, wrote a critical review of Menger’s book (Schmoller, 1883). Menger reacted forcefully with a more straightforwardly polemical small book, Die Irrthiimer des Historismus in der deutschen National6konomie (Menger, 1884). Commentaries by others appeared in later years, but this brief episode amounted to what has thereafter been called the Methodenstreit between Menger and Schmoller. It has been established as perhaps the most famous methodological controversy in the history of the social sciences.

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Uskali Mäki
University of Helsinki


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