Economic Methodology in a Nutshell
Daniel M. Hausman
The Journal of Economic Perspectives, Vol. 3, No. 2. (Spring, 1989), pp. 115-127. Stable URL:
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Journal of Economic Perspectives- Volume 3, Number 2-Spring 1989- Pages 115-127
Economic Methodology in a Nut shell
Daniel M. Hausman
he literature on economic methodology is concerned mainly with questions of theory confirmation or disconfirmation or empirical theory choice. The central question is usually, "How one can tell whether a particular bit of economics is good science?" Economists would like methodologists to provide the algorithm for doing good economic science-and they want the algorithm to vindicate their own practice and to reveal the foolishness of those who do economics differently. For example, Milton Friedman (1953) tells economists that good theories are those that provide correct and useful predictions, while Paul Samuelson (1947, 1963) tells economists to formulate theories with "operational" concepts that are, ideally, logically equivalent to their descriptive consequences. In my view, not only are these (and most other) specific views on theory appraisal mistaken, but the concern with problems of empirical appraisal is exaggerated, for there are also interesting methodological questions to consider-both normative and descriptive-concerning the structure, strategy, goals and heuristics of various economic theories. For example, few writers on economic methodology recognize that the activities of formulating economic models and investigating their implications are a sort of conceptual exploration. Instead, most mistakenly regard these activities as offering empirical hypotheses and assess them in terms of some philosophical model of confirmation or falsification.
As a tendentious survey of standard methodological literature, this essay will, however, share its preoccupation with the empirical appraisal of theory, microeconomic theory in particular. I shall in particular discuss four approaches to praising or damning microeconomic theory that have dominated methodological discussions.
Daniel M . Hausman is Associate Professor of Philosophy, Carnegie-Mellon University, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. He is also co-editor of the journal Economics and Philosophy.
Journal of Economic Perspectives
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