First Version: September 1996
Revised: February 1998
I have benefited greatly from the comments I received on an earlier draft from Kenneth Arrow, Avinash Dixit, Frank Hahn, Geoffrey Harcourt, Ira Katznelson, Wolf Lepenies, Assar Lindbeck, KarlGöran Mäler, James Mirrlees, Paul Seabright, Gavin Wright, Stefano Zamagni and, most especially, Robert Solow.
*The author is the Frank Ramsey Professor of Economics at the University of Cambridge and Fellow of St. John’s College.
Mailing address: Faculty of Economics, Sidgwick Avenue, Cambridge CB3 9DD, U.K.
Most economists I know have little time for the philosophy of economics as an intellectual discipline. They have even less patience with economic methodology. They prefer instead to do economics. If they are involved in serious methodological discussion at all, it is during the process of conducting economics research or preparing their findings for publication. They do so in the latter stage, for example, and they do so often unashamedly, when commenting on the weaknesses of previous work before saying why they feel their own work is superior.
There is much to be said for this habit. Far and away the most effective criticisms of currentpractice economics that I have read have come from those who themselves have been engaged in research in economics, rather than in its philosophy or, more narrowly, in its methodology. Indeed, I know of no contemporary practising economist whose investigations have been aided by the writings of professional methodologists.
Why has this been so? One reason may be that people who do economics usually know more about the strengths and weaknesses of current-practice economics than those who have neither acquired nor sifted data, nor experimented with alternative theoretical constructions so as to judge which construction is likely to improve upon that which has been explored and which is unlikely to...