A concept of progress for normative economics

Economics and Philosophy 22 (1):19-54 (2006)
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The paper discusses the sense in which the changes undergone by normative economics in the twentieth century can be said to be progressive. A simple criterion is proposed to decide whether a sequence of normative theories is progressive. This criterion is put to use on the historical transition from the new welfare economics to social choice theory. The paper reconstructs this classic case, and eventually concludes that the latter theory was progressive compared with the former. It also briefly comments on the recent developments in normative economics and their connection with the previous two stages. (Published Online April 18 2006) Footnotes1 This paper suspersedes an earlier one entitled “Is There Progress in Normative Economics?” (Mongin 2002). I thank the organizers of the Fourth ESHET Conference (Graz 2000) for the opportunity they gave me to lecture on this topic. Thanks are also due to J. Alexander, K. Arrow, A. Bird, R. Bradley, M. Dascal, W. Gaertner, N. Gravel, D. Hausman, B. Hill, C. Howson, N. McClennen, A. Trannoy, J. Weymark, J. Worrall, two annonymous referees of this journal, and especially the editor M. Fleurbaey, for helpful comments. The editor's suggestions contributed to determine the final orientation of the paper. The author is grateful to the LSE and the Lachmann Foundation for their support at the time when he was writing the initial version.
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First archival date: 2015-11-21
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