The one philosophy​ of science book every economist​ should read

23 Oct, 2017 at 18:19 | Posted in Theory of Science & Methodology | 5 Comments

bhaskIt is not the fact that science occurs that gives the world a structure such that it can be known by men. Rather, it is the fact that the world has such a structure that makes science, whether or not it actually occurs, possible. That is to say, it is not the character of science that imposes a determinate pattern or order on the world; but the order of the world that, under certain determinate conditions, makes possible the cluster of activities we call ‘science’. It does not follow from the fact that the nature of the world can only be known from (a study of) science, that its nature is determined by (the structure of) science. Propositions in ontology, i.e. about being, can only be established by reference to science. But this does not mean that they are disguised, veiled or otherwise elliptical propositions about science … The ‘epistemic fallacy’ consists in assuming that, or arguing as if, they are.


  1. Bhaskar’s “Realist Theory of Science” was published in 1975. Here is a quote from Bhaskar’s 1979 “The Possibility of Naturalism,”

    Critical realists are primarily concerned with relations between people and
    structures. In other words, their interest in the relational derives from seeking
    to link structure and agency in a non-reified manner. The ‘relational conception
    … allows one to focus on … the distribution of the structural conditions
    of action’ and in “doing so it allows one to situate the possibility of different
    and antagonistic interests, of conflicts within society, and hence of interest motivated
    transformations in social structure.”

    Bhaskar is refuting empiricism and value consensus but he does not address how a structure is a causal power of a particular group; Bhaskar addresses the influence of a social group but not how a group emerges nor how the reflexivity of a group actually influences.

  2. In relation to any social science, and especially economics, it seems natural to me to contradict Bhaksar on this point: economics is prescriptively constructing the world it studies. Perhaps I am misunderstanding, but he seems to want the scientist to stand apart, and epistemically, the social scientist must engage. This interactive testing by engagement is present in any science — this core of empiricism is the pragmatic interpretation.
    Neoclassical economics goes wrong by not engaging, by being content to nurture analysis alone, with only handwaving and stylized facts.
    Going directly on point, could a modern economy exist without a modern economics to order, explain and prescribe it?
    I think not. And, the shortcomings of neoclassical economics contribute to the dysfunction of the actual economic system.

  3. What ever the structure and the reason for the structure of the world, there is only one way of knowing it and that is through our senses and reason. Who’s to say our senses and reason are up to the job? I think Bhaskar’s thinking around the epistemic fallacy borders on circularity.

    • The problem of infinite regress applies to any philosophy of science.

      I think meditation intuits new knowledge. Jains knew of micro-organisms for millennia before the microscope.

  4. Suppose that the world does in fact have a structure that can be known by men. How could anyone know? And how could they justify such a belief to others?

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